Why Christian Ponder Was the Correct Pick

Watching the fan reaction on television as well as my peers’ reaction all over my Facebook news feed tonight, it’s clear that the Vikings’ selection of former Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder was mostly unexpected, and for many, an unpopular pick.  But no team in the NFL had a worse QB situation heading into 2012, and I for one, am a big fan of the Ponder pick.

First off, let’s look at Ponder as a player.  At 6-2, 229, he has decent size.  His arm strength and injury history were really the only things preventing him from being a consensus Top-15 pick leading up to the draft.

Ponder’s accuracy and touch on his passes, as well as his timing, especially on short to intermediate routes are his biggest strengths.  He is quite mobile as well, and projects as someone who will be able to scramble out of trouble when need be. 

Ponder also had three years of starting experience in a pro-style offense at Florida State, and from what experts are saying about him, he has very good leadership qualities and is an intelligent person capable of learning and improving with good coaching.

At the NFL Combine in March, Ponder was the consensus top quarterback who participated, showcasing his trademark accuracy and timing.  He also was the MVP of the Senior Bowl, displaying solid game-management skills and ability to make adjustments on the fly.

Obviously, the injury concerns and arm strength questions were the main reason why many draft “experts” didn’t have him as highly rated, but if the Vikings’ front office did their homework and determined that Ponder’s health wouldn’t be a huge issue, I think the they made a good pick.

One of the main complaints that I’m hearing from Vikings fans is that the front office clearly reached for a QB and ignored superior talent at other positions of need to do so.

Perhaps that is the case, but how are these fans coming to that conclusion?  Based on what Mel Kiper says?  Based on the many online-published mock drafts done by people with very little actual football knowledge?

I would invite angry fans to go back and look at any past draft in recent history and examine the first round mock drafts put forth by the Mel Kipers and Todd McShays of the world.  You will see countless players that the “experts” pegged as late-round guys or “reaches” outperforming top picks.  It happens every year.  What does that tell us?  That the mock drafts and so-called draft gurus aren’t always right.

I think much of the Ponder hate comes from this.  If none of the draft experts had Ponder going this high, the Vikings MUST have screwed up!  They MUST be reaching!

Although NFL front office executives and scouts also make their fair share of draft day blunders (see: Leaf, Ryan and Russell, JaMarcus), I’m far more inclined to trust their professional judgement after their interview process and holding private workouts over some poofy-haired T.V. personality without any actual NFL credentials.

I’m not saying that Ponder is definitely going to succeed; he obviously has some question marks, but so too does every prospect in this year’s draft, even (especially) the No. 1 pick, Cam Newton.

Many Vikings fans are irate, saying the Vikings should have picked the “best player available” and gone for a QB in Round 2.

I would argue that at No. 12, there was no clear-cut “best player.”  Would you have been happier with one of the many questionable defensive end prospects?

Da’Quan Bowers had major injury risks as well, and none of the other defensive end prospects project to be a huge enough upgrades over Brian Robison in my opinion to ignore the QB position, you know… the most important position in sports.

Additionally, how many left defensive ends (the DE lining up against the opponent’s right tackle) make huge impacts in the NFL?  For the most part, the big-time sack artists in this league, and the DEs who make the biggest impacts all play on the left side (Jared Allen), attacking the opposing quarterbacks’ blind side.  To me, getting a QB is more important than trying to upgrade that spot.

Nebraska CB Prince Amukamura was perhaps the most highly-touted player still available at No. 12 when the Vikings were on the clock.  Many of the radio and television personalities who were covering the draft live were speculating that Amukamura should be Minnesota’s pick since many publications had him going in the Top 10.

Amukamura is a solid cover corner, but again, in my opinion, cornerback is not as big of an area of need for the Vikings as QB.  Going into 2012, Minnesota will have Cedric Griffin (hopefully) back in good health as well as last year’s draft pick, Chris Cook to go along with Asher Allen and veteran Antione Winfield.  And while that group has its fair share of question marks, those guys can be solid if Griffin is healthy and Cook and Allen can develop.

As for the offensive line and defensive tackle, the other main positions of need for the Vikings, I think there is sufficient depth in this draft for Rick Spielman and company to address those areas later on.

The other popular criticism of the Ponder pick was that, “it was an okay pick, but just not at No. 12.”

Well, that’s all well and good to say, but in order to move down in the draft, you need a partner to trade with who wants to move up.  Finding a good trade partner is far easier said than done, and remember, the Washington Redskins traded down from No. 10 to No. 16.  So at Nos. 15 and 16, with the Dolphins and Skins both possibly looking at QBs, the Vikings couldn’t risk trading down past those two teams and missing out on their guy just to recoup a later round pick.

Far better to snatch up the guy you want at your pick than trying to mess around and missing out on him in the process.

All in all, I like the selection of Ponder, like I said.  They absolutely had to come out of this draft with a QB, and after Jake Locker was somewhat surprisingly picked by Tennessee and Jacksonville leap-frogged the Vikings to take Blaine Gabbert, I was curious about which direction Spielman and the front office would go.

If the Vikings can address their offensive line issues as well as their other holes later in the draft and through free agency (eventually, after the CBA is settled), this could be a very successful offseason for Minnesota.

Having a run game headlined by Adrian Peterson is going to help Ponder, obviously, and will hopefully mask his lack of elite arm strength.  A jump ball beast like Sidney Rice and a home-run threat in Percy Harvin will also help in terms of Ponder’s suspect deep ball accuracy.

If Ponder’s decision-making, timing and presence in the pocket are all NFL-quality, I think he has the ability to succeed in Minnesota, and will hopefully be good enough to silence the haters.

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