Why Ponder’s return to form could be crucial

I watched Florida State’s defeat of Boston College last weekend and once again came away distinctly unimpressed by FSU quarterback Christian Ponder. He threw three picks, looked lost at times and for the fifth game out of six this season he failed to throw for more than 200 yards. He hasn’t got good arm strength, he isn’t that accurate and whilst mobile he’s certainly not the same level of athlete as Jake Locker or even Andrew Luck. Simply put, I just can’t place him on a NFL roster starting games at the next level. A solid backup? Perhaps. But I certainly feel he’s being over rated by those slating him for round one and right now, I wouldn’t take him in the first four rounds.

ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay had this to say today:

There is clearly something wrong with Ponder. We don’t know whether it’s the lingering effects of an early-season triceps injury or something that has not been disclosed, but it’s hard to believe he has simply regressed to the point where he could become one of the Seminoles’ biggest liabilities.

The Eagles have a good defense and coach Frank Spaziani does a good job mixing up looks and confusing a quarterback’s reads, but three interceptions — and two other bad throws that were dropped by defenders — along with a fumble are unacceptable from a senior quarterback who is supposed to be at the top of his game.

Florida State was able to win despite Ponder’s miscues and he has half a season to turn things around, but he is far from a first-round lock and teams that would value him in a West Coast offense that emphasizes accuracy and good decisions were surely unimpressed. Ponder was not strong in either area against Boston College and he needs to shine in those areas in order to make up for a lack of ability to drive the ball down the field.

Assuming underclassmen Andrew Luck and Ryan Mallet enter the 2011 draft, they and Washington’s Jake Locker will clearly be the top three quarterbacks on the board. Ponder has a chance to play his way into the fourth spot but he has not helped his cause recently and needs to turn things around in a hurry.

Is an injury holding Ponder back? He certainly looked a lot better last year, especially against a UNC team still carrying a lot of it’s talented defensive prospects. However, you almost have to say if he is struggling he almost needs to stop playing to prevent further damage to his stock. Whilst some will appreciate the toughness of playing through the pain or not when 100%, this isn’t the kind of tape he wants scouts watching before the 2011 draft.

For the Seahawks to have a shot at drafting one of the ‘big two’ (although I have raised concerns with both Locker and Luck) without owning a top pick, they’ll need teams at the top of the draft to feel confident with alternatives. That could mean finding an answer via an existing veteran (trade of free agency) or settling for prospects in round two. Miami felt comfortable enough to pass on Matt Ryan in 2008 and take Jake Long first overall instead. They eventually drafted current starter Chad Henne in the second round and ran with Chad Pennington until he was ready to start. That year the second QB off the board was Joe Flacco who went 18th overall, despite a number of teams earlier in the draft having a prospective vacancy at quarterback.

So if you’re rooting for the Seahawks having a chance to draft Jake Locker or Andrew Luck next year, it might be worth hoping Christian Ponder, Ryan Mallett and Blaine Gabbert step up their performance.


  1. 1sthill

    Missouri is playing Oklahoma this weekend, so I’ll be getting my first look at Gabbert this year. I want Gabbert to look like a stud, so this would give the Seahawks a QB within reach of thier draft position of the 1st round. From what another reader has posted on here & Gabbert’s scouting report on the ESPN web site he sounds like a good alternative to Locker & Luck. We have to get our franchise QB in this draft.

    • Rob

      For what it’s worth…. here’s Todd McShay on Blaine Gabbert from the same article:

      “Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert is competing with Ponder for that No. 4 spot among quarterbacks, and after breaking down Gabbert’s early-season game against Illinois and a recent outing against Texas A&M we see a lot to like in terms of potential.

      Gabbert is bigger and has a stronger arm than former Missouri QB Chase Daniel, and because Gabbert is taller he sees a lot more of the field and with his bigger arm makes more throws than Daniel ever could. There are some concerns, though, and at this point I wouldn’t take Gabbert in the first two or three rounds.

      As is the case with many spread-offense quarterbacks who operate with predetermined reads, if Gabbert’s primary option is covered he becomes anxous in the pocket and has a tendency to bail out rather than shuffling his feet and stepping up in the pocket. He makes a pre-snap read based on the look of the defense and if something happens to take away his initial high-low or inside-out read he will almost always break the pocket to his right.

      Gabbert also seems to lack great pocket presence and does not always feel pressure around him. Overall, he needs a lot of work as a pocket passer in terms of standing tall and going through his progressions.

      He has played well for the most part and shown toughness playing through a hip pointer, however, and this week’s matchup with Nebraska will provide a great opportunity for scouts to assess his progress. The Sooners will spend a lot of time using a three-man rush and dropping eight into coverage, which will force Gabbert to make quick decisions and fit the ball into tight windows. How he handles that test will tell scouts a lot about where he stands.”

  2. Matt

    I think the Ponder hype has to do with his off-field intelligence. Everyone wants a “smart” QB, but there’s a clear distinction between a smart QB and a smart student. Anybody who has watched Ponder should clearly see his intelligence/decision making on the football field has been below average, and quite simply doesn’t have the physical talent to make mental mistakes.

    I really think the love for Luck has a lot to do with “Stanford.” The words “poise and intelligence” get thrown around too loosely in sports and those two terms seem to permeate around Luck and Ponder (pre-season). Let’s not forget that football is a fast game and instincts play a bigger role than general intelligence (pen & paper).

    The smartest kid I played baseball with in college, was by far the dumbest on the field. Part of his problem was over-thinking everything he did. Sometimes a brilliant thinker is not the best to lead when snap decisions must be made. Just a thought. To my knowledge, Dan Marino scored very poorly on the wonderlic and he turned out ok.

    • Rob

      You’ve absolutely nailed it Matt. It seems like ‘intelligence’ is the new en vogue characteristic for QB’s this year. We’ve heard a lot about Ponder and Luck’s intelligence off the field, but it doesn’t translate any more on the field than any other QB prospect. Matt Stafford was never praised for his smarts, just is physical qualities. He tried to fit the ball into tight window’s just like Ponder and Luck, it’s just Stafford did it 30 yards further down the field. The thing that makes Sam Bradford different is he comes accross intelligent and personable off the field, but you can just tell during a game he’s done his homework and that he has a natural instinct as a play develops.

      Brett Favre isn’t the brightest guy to be completely fair, but he’s had a hugely succesful career. Philip Rivers has that petulant side to his character, similar to the way Ryan Mallett is acting at the moment, but Rivers has won games in the NFL. Certainly part of the reason Luck is being over rated right now is for the reasons you’ve given – assumptions that intelligence and ‘poise’ equates to accuracy and physical qualities. It doesn’t and Luck is neither physically brilliant or extremely accurate.

  3. Jay

    What exactly are the character concerns regarding to Ryan Mallett?

    • Rob

      Many have speculated that there are major issues with Malllet’s character. Tony Pauline said Mallett just ‘isn’t like the other guys’. Wes Bunting said he’d spoken to a scout who claimed he had stuff on Mallett that would seriously hurt his stock. Walter Cherepinsky has speculated all year about something that will become public soon. I have no knowledge if this truly exists or whether it’s just speculation – but there are rumours out there. On face value, Mallett can be quite petulant and he doesn’t come accross as being the most switched on in interviews. He was also arrested in 2009 for public intoxication. The scouts will have to do their homework, but the old saying is there’s no smoke without fire.

  4. joe

    Do you think Cam Newton be a viable option for the Seahawks?

    • Rob

      I don’t think so. He’s a run first QB. I wouldn’t draft him to play quarterback. He’s an amazing athlete who could win the Heisman, but his game just won’t translate. He won’t be able to run 18 times for 180 yards against a NFL defense. He isn’t polished enough as a passer. I would be surprised if he declared, but if he stays at Auburn off the back of a SEC title and Heisman year, he might feel like he has nothing left to achieve in his 5th year in college (He previously played in the JUCO ranks after transferring from Florida). He has some character flags (arrested whilst at Florida) that need to be checked. I just can’t ever see him playing QB in the NFL. His best bet is to learn another position… possibly H Back… and take the odd snap in the wildcat or trick play.

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