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Spotlight: Christian Ponder

posted by Heath Cummings on Aug 1st


Heath Cummings's thoughts

There are plenty of other young quarterbacks in the bottom third of our rankings you could get excited about for the future, but Christian Ponder may have the best 2012 season of them all. It's true that the second year QB doesn't project like Andrew Luck or have the cannon of Jake Locker, but he has weapons, and poise, and a familiarity with the system. None of that sounds very sexy, but when it comes to picking a backup quarterback in a redraft league it may be the most important.

The Vikings' weapons match up perfectly with Ponder's skill set. First and foremost, he needs a good running game to move the ball, because he is not the type of quarterback that is going to take you 80 yards consistently in the air. Of course, when healthy, Adrian Peterson is one of the best backs in the NFL today. Next, Ponder needs someone that can make something happen after the play, because he's not going to beat you with 40+ yard bombs down the sideline very often. Percy Harvin has always been a stud in this area and finished third amongst all receivers the yards after catch (YAC) in 2011. Finally, Ponder needs a solid tight end to make plays over the middle and provide a big target in the red zone. Rudolph is a prime candidate for a break out year after studying behind Visanthe Shiancoe last season. At 6'6" and 259 lbs. he provides exactly the kind of target Ponder needs assuming he shows the strength and 'my ball' mentality needed in the red zone. Carlson is a wild card. After the 2009 season he looked to be one of the games rising stars at tight end, with 12 touchdowns in his first two seasons. After missing last season with a torn labrum he'll try to return to his role as a steady red zone target.

When looking at how the Vikings will use these weapons, think the 2011 Patriots with a running game. Of course Christian Ponder is no Tom Brady, but look at Brady last season. He had virtually no true deep threat, but destroyed teams with precision passing underneath, trusting his playmakers to make plays for him. Brady threw for 5235 yards last season, over 2600 of those yards came on YAC. That's exactly the type of system Minnesota needs for Ponder to be a successful quarterback. Of course, there are two big problems with projecting anything close to that for Ponder.

1. Rudolph/Carlson is not Gronkowski/Hernandez. Even when he was scoring those 12 touchdowns, Carlson was never thought of as a big YAC guy, and Rudolph is still unproven.

2. A lot of the Patriots success in YAC is due to the fact that Brady put the ball not only a great position for the receiver to catch it, but also in a great position for the receiver to do something after the catch. No one is expecting Ponder to exhibit Brady-like accuracy in year two.

The Vikings certainly won't be the only NFL team mimicking the Patriots success in the two tight end scheme, and they won't be nearly as effective, but it's a scheme that sets up very well with Ponder's skill set.

Outside of Ponder's limited skill set, the biggest hurdle I see for him in 2012 is his schedule. No quarterback in the league faces a bigger jump in competition from 2011 than Ponder. Fortunately, the easier portion of is schedule comes during the bye weeks. Since we see him as nothing more than backup quarterback for fantasy purposes, it's instructive so see which byes he's best set up to cover.

Week 7 vs Arizona - This is a busy week for QB1 byes with Peyton Manning, Michael Vick, Philip Rivers, and Matt Ryan on a bye. Ponders has the seventh easiest match up of all quarterbacks that week. I would be happy to match him up with Rivers or Ryan, but think the injury risk of Manning or Vick demand a better back up.

Week 10 vs Detroit - Ponder also plays Detroit in week 4, but that's on the road and I don't like his prospects near as much in that hostile environment. At home against a weak Lions secondary should provide a good match up. The two starters with byes this week are Aaron Rodgers and Robert Griffin III. I would not pair up Griffin and Ponder, but Rodgers makes perfect sense.

Ponder also has a decent matchup in Week 8, but I'm not starting any of the quarterbacks on bye that week unless I'm in a very deep league. I would confidently target Ponder as my back up in the very late rounds if I have Rodgers, Rivers, or Ryan as my starting quarterback. You could also consider it if you want to roll the dice and have drafted Peyton Manning, Vick, or Griffin.

Positives

  • A healthy running game and new weapons will make Ponder's job easier than many second year quarterbacks
  • The Vikings' offensive system sets up perfectly for Ponder's skill set

Negatives

  • A lack of arm strength, and reliable deep threats mean that there will be very few big plays to supplement his statistics
  • Ponder has a relatively low ceiling, making his dynasty prospects limited
  • A much more difficult schedule than 2011 makes the prospects for a breakout year even bleaker

Final thoughts

A lot of times if you draft a young quarterback as your back up, you have a slight hope that he turns into a stud and puts you in a position of strength with two QB1s. I really don't see that with Ponder and think his prospects for 2012 actually more resemble a trusty veteran that you can count on to be solid if your starter gets injured.

With the game plan in Minnesota and the lack of competition, I really have a hard time seeing him have a disaster of a season, and believe he should remain steady, if not spectacular most of the year. His one real hope for a breakout is if Rudolph can turn into Gronkowski Lite and Ponder can develop into one of the league's most accurate passers.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

TheDirtyWord said:

I was at the Vikings/Falcons game where on a 4th down play (4th & 13), Ponder dropped back and threw a bomb to the back of the end zone to a streaking Percy Harvin. It was an extremely impressive play for any player to make, much less a rookie QB making his 6th NFL start. It was the type of play a fan base will look at from a young QB and have hope. He did other things well that game too, I thought his pocket composure was solid for a rookie and when he escaped the pocket, he kept his eyes downfield and found open receivers instead of tucking and running.

So I've been intrigued by the off-season reports on Ponder that seem to point to a decent chance of him taking that next step in his development. Greg Cosell seems to like Ponder a lot and in lieu of the fact that Ponder was a seen as somewhat of a surprise selection that high up in the 2011 draft, the pick now looks like it could pan out. The issue with the Vikings though is the lack of weapons they have in the passing game. Aside from Percy Harvin, the players the Vikings have are subpar (Michael Jenkins/Devin Aromashadu) or yet to fully develop or realize their potential (Kyle Rudolph/Jerome Simpson). Couple that with the fact that despite what appears to be a very quick recovery from ACL surgery, no matter how incredible the progress Adrian Peterson has made, the Vikings will exercise caution here making the Vikings run game more pedestrian than what a running game with a 100% Adrian Peterson would normally yield.

Thus, you can look at Ponder in one of two ways: 1) because of the dearth of capable weapons on the offensive side of the ball, his development will be slowed and he'll aspire to questionable QB2 status OR 2) with a year of learning under his belt, he'll be a much more fluent NFL QB and will be able to make the most of the talent around him. I'm more inclined to side with the latter argument although his inability to stay healthy even for 10 games is probably the biggest impediment to his progression as an NFL QB as any other factor. Reports state he's gained 20 pounds this off-season, but Ponder had durability issues in college which put his draft stock in question originally and 2011 did nothing to dispel concerns here. If you're evaluating whether Ponder can be a QB the Vikings can feel good about handing their future over to, I think Ponder has shown more positive than negative signs. But even with what looked like an encouraging opening act in 2011, Ponder was barely rosterable and for him to be so in 2012, most are going to need to see it with their own eyes first before making the plunge. With the quarterback position never having been as deep as it is now (Joe Flacco is as of this writing QB21 on FFC), Ponder simply rates as an intriguing developmental prospect who'll need to make a quantum leap versus a gradual one before folks start entrusting him on gameday.

Jason Wood (Footballguys.com Senior Writer) said:

Given the early success of the likes of Andy Dalton and Cam Newton, people tend to be very intolerant of young players who don't immediately flourish. That's a mistake. I'm not at all sold that Christian Ponder will develop into a long-time NFL starter, but to write him off simply because of last year's struggles would be a colossal error. That said, given the "win now" position the coaches are likely facing, and given a team I don't see as being competitive, it wouldn't at all surprise me if we see Joe Webb play a few games.


Christian Ponder projections

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Heath Cummings285480307218152060
Message board consensus232417289419123122