Christian Ponder’s draft stock & weekend links

I’m going to be in London this weekend for – amongst other things – the game between Denver and San Francisco at Wembley Stadium. I’ve got Miami vs Virginia, USC vs Oregon and Missouri vs Nebraska on record to watch next week.

I watched Florida State’s defeat to North Carolina State last night. Nearly every mock draft I see has Christian Ponder (QB, FSU) in the first or second round (example 1, example 2). Personally, I find that astonishing. I go into more detail here but I wouldn’t draft him in the first four rounds. We’re in danger of overstating percevied intelligence off the field and ‘moxie’ and ignoring glaring physical weaknesses and a lack of accuracy.

Let me quote Ron Jaworski, who had this to say when reviewing Cardinals’ rookie Max Hall:

“The one thing we’ve heard about Max is the moxy and the leadership. Those are all wonderful attributes for a quarterback but the attributes you have to have week in week out to be successful over a long period of time is the ability to throw the football accurately and with velocity. When I look at the tape I don’t see either of those. I don’t see the ball going down the field. You see the bubble screen, the bootleg thrown in the flat and nothing down the field. You just don’t see a skill set that projects to be a consistent NFL quarterback. Things don’t look good when you’re on the field with Max Hall. It’s that simple. I’m sure he’s a wonderful guy giving everything he’s got but the skill set just isn’t there.”

Clearly this is very specific to Max Hall. However, this certainly relates to some of the issues I have with Ponder. He doesn’t have a strong arm, in fact it’s pretty weak. His first downfield pass against North Carolina State last night was a high floaty ball with zero velocity into double coverage.

One thing I just don’t ‘get’ with Ponder is the lack of velocity he even puts on his wide receiver screens. The idea of a screen pass is to get the ball quickly to the wide out who can take advantage of soft coverage. When Ponder throws the ball out, it’s almost like he’s concentrating too much in simply hitting the receiver, as it floats out with nowhere near enough zip. The defensive back has more than enough time to read the play, react and make the tackle.

His decision making and accuracy have been all over the place in 2010. In the last two games against NC State and Boston College, I counted three times when Ponder took play action, turned to his right only to be greeted by a defensive lineman charging to him. In this situation he has to either take the sack and accept the broken play, try and throw the ball away or make a play with his legs. On each occasion Ponder simply threw the ball straight at the DL allowing the pass to be tipped up into the air. It led to one interception against BC and another similar play for a pick six was called back because of a fortunate false start. This is just one example of the way Ponder tries too hard to force throws.

A lot of people talk about his intelligence and leadership. When you hear Ponder in interviews he comes across most personable and clearly switched on. I’ve no doubt he’s a hard worker off the field and studying won’t be an issue at the next level. We need to distinguish between off the field intelligence and on the field smarts. I don’t think Ponder reads the game well enough. There are too many basic errors, too many botched plays. I don’t like Greg McIlroy as a pro-prospect and he’s physically limited. However – you can see he’s ‘game smart’ by the fact he limits his mistakes and simply keeps things ticking over. He manages. Ponder doesn’t.

The clearest example of this was the last real play of the game. Florida State had stormed down field into the red zone with seconds left needing a touchdown to win. Play action was the call, but Ponder faked the hand off wrongly to the full back – so when the half back arrived for the ball they collided, forcing a fumble.

On three occassions last night, Ponder reacted badly to dropped passes. Admittedly, on all three occassions the ball was on the money and the catch needed to be completed. However – sinking to your knees with your head in your hands after such a mistake is not the way to lead your team.

Stats can be misleading in many ways. A wideout like Julio Jones did suffer last year playing in a run-dominant offense. Due to his well publicised ‘drops’, many over emphasised the mental errors – which although they did exist – were not the sole reason for a slight sophomore slump.

Some quaterbacks get praised for stats when they play in a pass friendly system. As good as Sam Bradford is, his incredible 50 touchdown Heisman year played some part to the offense he played in as well as his incredible talent.

Florida State aren’t a bad team. They’ve defeated Miami and even when their quarterback has played very poorly (vs Boston College) they’ve done enough to win. But I just don’t know what to make of Ponder’s numbers. In eight games, he’s only reached 200+ yards once – against a decidedly poor Wake Forest outfit. He’s ranked only the fourth best QB in the distinctly average ACC. His 13-7 TD/INT ratio isn’t disastrous, but it isn’t that great either. His completion percentage is down from 68% last year to 60% this year.

You can make of that what you will. However, scouts will watch the tape from 2010 and see a prospect who just hasn’t performed well enough. Physically limited, not accurate enough to make up for it and hasn’t put up the big numbers despite some weak opponents. He had a second round grade coming into 2010 and hasn’t done anything this year to improve that.

I can only see a backup role in the NFL at best. Even then – I don’t think he’ll beat teams physically or with his accuracy. He could well be another Max Hall – struggling to get the ball down field, making basic errors. He’s more athletic than Max Hall for sure, but not in terms of being able to hurt a team. He’ll move around in the pocket a bit more, but he isn’t a good passer on the move and struggles to keep his eyes downfield.

But then we come back to the ‘moxie’ and ‘intelligence’. That will never be a good enough reason alone to grade a prospect in round one. It’s why Colt McCoy went in round three (despite a much better CFB career) and probably should’ve gone later than even that. You don’t go the other way and over promote a physical specimen who isn’t switched on (JaMarcus Russell). Ponder is neither physical or accurate enough to deserve the high grade some people have offered.

***Weekend Links***

Chad Reuter and Rob Rang from NFL Draft Scout look at the top senior prospects on offense and defense. I don’t agree with Rang that Cameron Heyward is the best defensive end and think he’s another ‘big name’ who’s slightly over rated. Neither Heyward or Allen Bailey (Miami) have great production this year – but Bailey is by far the more physically talented. Note the use of ‘moxie’ in Reuter’s review of Ponder. He does at least appreciate his inability to drive the ball downfield.

Walter Cherepinsky publishes an updated mock draft. He has the Seahawks drafting 21st overall in round one and selecting Jake Locker (QB, Washington). I don’t think that’s an unrealistic proposition. I do however disagree with the choice in round two – Kritofer O’Dowd (C, USC). This is too high for O’Dowd, particularly with Stephen Paea (DT, Oregon State) and Rodney Hudson (G, FSU) still on the board.

Mocking the Draft passes on information regarding Aaron Williams (CB, Texas) intentions for the 2011 NFL Draft. “On the season, Williams has 30 tackles, seven pass breakups, seven passes defended, five tackles for a loss, three forced fumbles and a sack.”

Mel Kiper hosts his weekly web chat. He says he has Florida State’s brilliant guard Rodney Hudson ranked 28th on his big board. He also discusses a number of other big name prospects.

A video to finish with. Want to know more about Auburn QB Cam Newton (who appears almost certain to enter the 2011 draft)?

1 Comment

  1. Matt

    How is Ponder even in the same conversation as Jake Locker? Locker is completely outperforming him while making better decisions on a team that is just awful. Florida State is an immensely talented team and Ponder continues to play bad. Yes, not inconsistent, just bad. Consistently bad.

    We’ve discussed this before Rob, but scouts are just doing whatever they can to cling to these prospects and we continue to hear “moxie and intelligence” just thrown around because of what the guy is doing in the classroom, not on the football field.

    I’m not terribly sure what scouts think these days in regards to college QBs. Perhaps it’s becoming such a crap shoot when drafting a guy and there really is no way to accurately project a QB? I really don’t think there is a specific formula for a successful QB because the fact of the matter is, there are so many different types of QBs in the NFL who succeed off different characteristics.

    I think we can all find comfort in the fact that Pete Carroll and John Schneider seem to have a firm belief system in regards to player evaluation and how they fit into their system. That said, if they draft a QB in 2011 (which they need to), I do have full confidence that they “believe” that this individual can and will become the future QB of the Hawks. Now, who that QB may be, we will just have to wait and see.

    I have to applaud the work they’ve done so far and it looks like we found 3 really good players (top level starters in the future) in the 2010 draft (Okung, ET, WT3) as well as 3 guys who look to become solid everyday players in a few years (Chancellor, Tate, Wilson). JS and PC got a great thing going and I’m excited and confident in upcoming drafts.

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