The Christian Ponder hype machine has gone into overdrive.
This is a prospect who watched his stock sink during the 2010 season. A collection of high profile errors, a meltdown performance in Oklahoma and a series of injury problems saw a potential first or second round pick dropping down the board.
So why, over a month before the draft, is the Florida State quarterback suddenly a hot topic?
Wes Bunting at the NFP ranks Ponder as the #1 quarterback in this class. I cannot agree with that assessment. Even with all the criticisms surrounding Cam Newton, Blaine Gabbert, Ryan Mallett and even Jake Locker there is still a clear gulf in quality between that quartet and the rest of this QB class.
Bunting often likes to think outside of the box and he should be applauded for that. However, he had eventual 6th round pick Jonathan Dwyer as his top running back last year and I probably disagree with his grading of Ponder even more than I disagreed with his judgement on the 2010 running back’s.
ESPN’s John Clayton says the Seahawks should draft Ponder before Jake Locker and has been talking up the possibility of the former Seminole going #25 overall.
Rob Rang at NFL Draft Scout suggests Ponder could be among five quarterbacks selected in round one. He previously had Ponder as high as a top-15 pick in an early mock draft during the 2010 college season, but dropped him out of the first round by the end of the year. Rang says team’s left the combine impressed with the quarterback but stresses the importance of the results of his medical exam.
Ignore every other issue with Ponder (and there are many) and let’s just focus on the injury concerns for a moment. He’s had three surgeries in the last 15 months (two to his elbow and one to his shoulder). This is a guy that never had the strongest throwing arm anyway and now you put multiple surgeries into the mix? That alone should set off alarm bells in war rooms across the NFL.
People may want to use the example of Sam Bradford, who suffered what should’ve been a season-ending shoulder injury during Oklahoma’s 2009 season opener. He tried to return against Texas a few weeks later and didn’t last until half-time. Season over.
He was still drafted first overall and had no injury issues during his rookie season. Even so, Bradford added substantial muscle to his frame during his time out and went from skinny to pro-QB in the space of a few months. There’s no doubt that the extra weight has increased Bradford’s durability so far and he’s shown no side effects on the field.
Ponder’s frame is maxed out (6-3, 227lbs) and he won’t be able to add bulk to improve his durability. Despite suffering persistent injuries he was still able to make eleven meaningful contributions during the 2010 season. The results? He threw for more than 200 yards just three times, decreased his completion percentage by around 7% and saw his YPA drop from 8.23 to 6.84. He tried to do more with his legs and ended up being sacked 23 times and after a vanilla four-touchdown performance at home to Samford, threw just 16 touchdowns compared to eight picks.
Florida State still made the ACC Championship game, but without Ponder in the line-up E.J. Manuel led the Seminoles to victories over Clemson and South Carolina (Chick-fil-A Bowl) and only a narrow shoot-out defeat to Virginia Tech.
You could say this is all well and good – if he is now fully recovered from injuries is it a false concern?
This brings me to perhaps the most over hyped part of Ponder’s game. Time and time again you’ll hear about Ponder’s intelligence. Listen to any of his interviews and you’ll soon notice that he’s an articulate, clever individual. It’s a common misconception that this actually translates onto the field, because it does not. He makes bad decisions. He’s not accurate.
When you’re grading a quarterback in round one, if they haven’t got extreme physical talent they at least need to be able to keep the chains moving and be at least above average for accuracy. There is no evidence that Ponder’s football IQ compensates for a weak arm and the injuries.
Throw on the tape during Florida State’s car crash 47-17 defeat at Oklahoma (Ponder: 11/28, 113 yards, 0 TD’s, 2 INT’s) and tell me that’s a first round decision maker. Move on to the Boston College game, where Ponder barely warranted a grade at all. How about the North Carolina State encounter, when having put the team in position to win with a late fourth quarter drive – Ponder’s fumble costs FSU the game.
“Physically he’s left wanting and his decision making isn’t great either. Against BC he consistently failed to put velocity on any of his throws – short, medium or long range. A lofted deep ball down the right against single coverage? Floats it up for grabs. He hasn’t got a big arm so that’s understandable to an extent, if not what you necessarily want to see. But if you haven’t got the physical tools to be a difference maker then you have to be accurate and make good decisions. You simply cannot – like Ponder did today – toss little floaty slants over and over again that are just begging to be intercepted. It was bad enough after Ponder’s second interception – a careless short slant with the CB well placed to make the pick. He never learnt from that mistake and just kept throwing it out there with a definite ‘come and get me’ plea to any watching defensive back. A second pick was inevitable – it happened eventually, this time for a touchdown.
“There are fundemental errors when Ponder throws his short slant. One – he doesn’t get it out of his hands with anywhere near enough juice. It needs to be a quick snap to the receiver, not a loose floated delivery two yards in front of the LOS because it will nearly always lead to the play being broken up or at worst – an interception return. Secondly – he needs to make a better judgement of the coverage and try to understand when to call off that throw and look for another target. A number of times he’d take a three step drop and without even looking elsewhere fire to his hot read. The result? His second interception and numerous other busted plays.
“The ball not only doesn’t come out with enough velocity, it’s often a loose spiral too. The case in point – an easy throw down the right to one of his receivers who had done a good job settling in between two defensive backs. The throw comes out wobbling all over the place and forces the WR to bobble the ball as he catches it. His initial step is in the field of play, but because it’s such a difficult pass to grab he ends up juggling it and a solid first down in the red zone is a third down back near the 40. He also forces a lot of throws -as emphasised by the third pick, always sticking to one receiver and trying to fit into an ultra tight window despite the massive frame of Mark Herzlich blocking the way. It wasn’t an isolated incident, too often his throws were really forced.”
If you need a second opinion, let’s refer to a seperate report from Scouts Inc. I’ve picked out several key notes from the piece:
“Has a lot of room to improve as an overall decision maker. He telegraphs too many throws, especially on vertical routes. Struggles at times when his primary target is covered. He takes too many chances. Needs to learn when to call it quits and play for another down. Tries to force too many throws. Also has lapses in game management. Short accuracy is better than long accuracy. Deep ball will sail on occasion. Touch is only decent. Will miss within the strike zone on occasion and can do a better job of leading his receivers on certain routes near/outside the numbers (quick outs, flare routes, etc).”
I appreciate that Ponder performed well enough at the combine to impress several observers. I understand why an intelligent guy from a good school will get built up above his station. We also see quarterbacks get rated way above their stock – indeed last year was a perfect example. Jimmy Clausen? Top ten pick. Colt McCoy? Late first rounder. Dan LeFevour? Round two or three.
Clausen went in round two, McCoy in round three and LeFevour in round six.
Although McCoy and Ponder are very different prospects, I see some similarities between the two. Both were recovering from an injury that meant they had to leave their teams’ respective bowl games. Both received a certain degree of hype in March. Both suddenly re-appeared in first round mock drafts.
And like McCoy last year, I suspect a few people will be surprised when Christian Ponder is still available in round three and possibly later.