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Is Christian Ponder the Next Rich Gannon?

 Patrick Reusse of had this same idea in August 2013 when he compared Christian Ponder to other quarterbacks. Well, now it’s my turn to add two cents and lay some tracks down this Ponder path.

Rich  Gannon had a long 17 year career in the NFL as a quarterback largely due to his mobility and toughness. Ponder reminds me a little bit of Gannon in the fact that he can make plays on the run and doesn’t have the world’s greatest arm.

 Gannon didn’t play much during his first three seasons in Minnesota, but he became the Vikings’ starter in his following three seasons. Gannon was a serviceable quarterback for the Vikings, however his stats in his first 42 starts for the Vikings, Redskins and Chiefs combined were nothing more than average at best. In his first nine years in the NFL, Gannon was 21-21 as a starter completing just 56.6% of his pass attempts while throwing for 49 touchdowns and 44 interceptions with a quarterback rate of 73.8.

Like a fine wine that improves with age, Gannon transformed into a very good quarterback at the age of 32. In his last two seasons at Kansas City and his final six years in Oakland he performed at his best. During that time frame, Gannon had a 55-35 record completing 61% of his attempts and throwing 131 touchdowns with 60 interceptions. Gannon won the NFL’s MVP award in 2002 as he guided the Raiders to the Super Bowl and the top rated offense.

Can Christian Ponder develop into a great NFL quarterback too? If he can hang around the league long enough, I think he has enough skill set to be able to pull off a “Gannon like” MVP season at some point in his career. And as for now, it appears the Vikings want to hold onto Ponder for a little while longer. GM Rick Spielman said Friday that he is anxious to see how Ponder looks under new offensive coordinator Norv Turner this off-season. “Christian will be here; I don’t anticipate anything — him not being here,” Spielman said, via Master Tesfatsion of the Startribune. “Right now we’re looking at quarterbacks, so we would say we don’t have the position solidified. I know Christian does have the physical abilities to do it, but for whatever reason things haven’t come together for him.”

 Here are my top reasons why Norv Turner can make Ponder a better quarterback.

  1. Christian Ponder has the mental aptitude to be a great quarterback. One of the most important qualities Norv looks for in a quarterback is smart leadership. Guys who can grasp concepts, understand how to play the game and make quick decisions. This is one area that Ponder should have all the marbles to excel.
  2. Eliminating some of Ponder’s negative plays should be correctable. Ponder is a classic game manager who doesn’t take many unnecessary risks.
  3. Contrary to popular belief, I think Ponder is consistently accurate when throwing to certain parts of the field and to certain targets. Conversely, Ponder is also consistently and predictably bad when targeting other areas or players. Here is what I mean: If Norv can understand the things Ponder does well… and can game plan to his strength, he will be just fine. Let’s look at the numbers. Ponder connected with Percy Harvin over 70% (149 of 207) in 2011 and 2012. Ponder has connected with Jarius Wright over 64% (34 of 53) in 2012 and 2013. Ponder connected with Greg Jennings 60% (24 of 40) in 2013. Ponder has connected with Kyle Rudolph over 60% (88 of 146) during the last three years. Michael Jenkins over 61%. Cordarrele Patterson 57%. Jerome Simpson 50%. Devin Aromashodu less than 35%. I’m no rocket scientist, but I would say it’s easy to see, Ponder is good at moving around and hitting a slot receiver or tight end working open in the middle of the field. The numbers don’t lie, so I’m not going to sugar coat it either. Ponder is just not good at directing a quick-read west coast offense that targets a single split end wide reciever.  BEWARE: Bill Musgrave learned that the hard way…  it’s just not the recipe for success when developing Ponder.
  4. Ponder has never had to work for the starting job. Over the past two preseasons, the Vikings really just had Ponder going through the motions. This year things will be very different, Norv will push Ponder to play well in order to win the starting job. This could be a welcomed change that hopefully could bring the best out of Christian Ponder.

 Go ahead and take the franchise tag off of Ponder. That’s no big deal. Go ahead and call him a first round reach… that means very little in the grand scheme of things. Ponder might even lose his starting job multiple times, and hear the boos along the way, but he will keep fighting. He will keep working. He will keep believing in himself. Yes, most teams will continue to want him on their roster. And, when his number is called, he will be ready to do what he does best—buy time with his athleticism so he can find the slot, flanker or tight end flashing open down the middle.

 I’m no Ponder hater that’s for sure.  As a matter of fact, I think Ponder could lead a very explosive, sexy passing attack under Norv Turner in Minnesota. Ponder has proven he is accurate and consistent when throwing to Harvin, Wright, Jennings, and Kyle Rudolph. Christian Ponder has connected with those players 295 of 446 targets. If my math is correct, his career 66.1% completion rate to those targets is an outstanding accuracy mark for a young quarterback. Norv is a bright offensive coach, if he thinks he can build around Ponder’s ability to play in the NFL, I’m all in.

 The biggest question mark I see with Ponder is his durability. Can he stay healthy? It’s the one issue Norv will not be able to fix.

Follow me on twitter @carlknowles_vt


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Carl Knowles

Carl Knowles (Contributor) is a former member of the Professional Bowler Association and an avid lifelong Vikings fan. When he is not bowling you can find him on websites and forum pages sharing his creative insight and enthusiasm for the Minnesota Vikings any chance he gets. Carl was a Phoenix Institute of Technology and Purdue University standout who currently enjoys the challenge of being a graphic director in the printing business. You can follow him on twitter @carlknowles_vt.

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  1. I like Ponder and he was held back by coaching but he isn’t durable and that is my biggest fear with him I don’t know if he can consistantly be there for all 16+ games unless he learns to stop scrambling so much. Still whether or not i see him as a franchise qb i still like the guy he is a class act.

  2. good article, carl…… more thing you can’t teach…..the “it” factor…..

  3. Good read, Carl. I’m guessing that a number of old timers like me think of Gannon when we watch Ponder play. Many teams considered changing Rich from QB to DB prior to the draft, but he would have none of it, and he eventually became a very effective QB. It will be interesting to see how the new leadership views Ponder, and how they might coach/use him.

    I am also very curious to see how Joe Webb fares under the new staff. Athleticism must translate into an NFL level position, or else it is just athleticism and a wasted roster spot.

  4. I said it before…. Ponder is the worst pick ever. If you really have to compare the #12 pick overall to Rich Gannon, then something is amiss

    1. didn’t we draft a lineman who went nuts right after the draft…..where does that come in…right after ponder?

      1. Dimetrius Underwood, I think his name was.
        Worst pick ever, a WHOLE lot worse than Ponder.

        Good article Carl. I said this before but wouldn’t it be a kick if Ponder turned out to be an NFL starting QB? He certainly will have all the tools now, including coaching.

    2. I’m sorry LE, but that distinction clearly belongs to Troy Williamson in my book. Number 7 overall, and he wasn’t…even…remotely…close. Ponder QB’d a playoff run, but Williamson struggled just to catch a ball. He’s a poster child for the term “reach”.

    1. And lets hope Ponder doesn’t either.
      If you want to cast blame on the worst offender of all, as far as costing us years of development, look no further than Brad Childress. That SOB cost us 5 years!

  5. The other area I think Ponder falls short that doesn’t get any attention is in the leadership department. To me that is part of the mystical “it” factor. Ponder has tried to be a leader for the team, but leadership isn’t really something that can be forced. The guy can be an effective QB somewhere and is worth giving a look under Turner’s scheme. They still need to bring in another rookie and a veteran to compete with him. You don’t lose anything by keeping Ponder on the team this season. I buy the Gannon comparisons, but Ponder isn’t going to get a decade here to become a good QB.

  6. i hope we don’t, but if we do re-hash whether ponder can be our starter, it better only be on a limited basis while we groom a new QB, and in a way that doesn’t detract from the new guy’s development. if ponder follows gannon’s trajectory, we’d have to wait six more years until he ‘blossoms’, and WE AIN’T WAITIN’ NO G*D D*M* SIX MORE F**K*N YEARS FOR YOU TO GET YOUR HEAD STRAIGHT, PONDER! NOW, CLEAN UP THAT PUDDLE OF PIZZ AND HIT THE SHOWER!

    1. C.C.
      Even as a backup, he is a goober?? If we get rid of Ponder… I guess we can alway sign Joe Webb and make him a QB.

      1. I’m just tired of the talk that he could become good. I’ve seen enough to know I’ve seen too much.
        Resign Cassel…I just am to the point that I don’t want there to be a possibility that he plays another down as a Viking.

  7. I can’t believe what I’m reading here. The suggestion that Nor change his offensive scheme to accommodate Ponder’s many flaws is a losing proposition. I will revolt if that’s the case. Third string should be Ponder’ destiny.

    1. Norv doesn’t have to change his scheme. Go back and watch the Cleveland vs Vikings game.

      Hoyer was very active moving around and throwing short passes to set up a couple deeper throws that connected for touch downs. Norv ran the ball 6 times out of some form of a spread formation that had 3 or more WRs. He also used play action out of the shot gun formation many times.

      Norv does not run a west coast pack everyone in the box with tight ends and a fullback with a single wr formation all the time.

      I understand most people want to move on from Ponder… even Judd Zulgad is now a Ponder hater.

      All I can say is, Norv knows what he is doing and I am behind him.

  8. Guess what I am trying to say is, Ponder is probably a better fit for a Norv Turner system than a Bill Musgrave offense.

    1. There you go. Well said.
      We’re going to get the wait and see because Ponder is not going anywhere and he’ll be on the roster this year.
      I for one, hope he excels.

    2. I will play devils advocate here and say that any QB is a better fit in Norv”s system than in Muskrats. Can’t do much with an offense that is contained on a 3×5 index card.

      1. true.
        I’m glad Spielman and Zimmer spent the money to land Turner. Great start to the off-season! Plenty of cap room for the front office and coaches to work with. Should be fun to watch what happens come March 11.

  9. Good read Carl. Ponder haters get ready because Ponder will be with the Vikings this year. I really doubt Cassel will be back with the Vikings. I heard Houston may be interested in Cassel. Coach the Joe Webb project is done. Webb is a free agent and I don’t see Webb being singed back.

  10. Most of what Ponder displayed as issues didn’t have anything to with the scheme. A receiver needs to be wide open for Ponder to execute a completion. We see a great number of mid level QBs throw to a spot and allow their receivers to fight for a completion, Chris just won’t do it. Even the majority of long passes where a receiver beat a DB early, the WR had to wait for the ball to arrive, it was never on time. This dude is afraid to make mistakes, he is to jittery. He seems like a good dude, but not a good pro QB.

    With all this, if they want to keep Pondage as a #3, that is fine with Freds as long as his salary isn’t overwhelming. Dude looks good wearing a hat and carrying a clipboard.

    Freds also likes Pat Cassell, and if he wants to compete with Ponder for the #3 spot, Freds thinks that is fine. Otherwise he can hit the road. Dude also seems like a good guy, but doesn’t look very good in a hat or carrying a clipboard. So Freds leans toward Ponder for the #3.

    Hey Rick, just pick 7 Quarterbacks this year. Until we get this issue resolved, nothing else really matters a hell of a lot. With 7 new QBs on the roster, we’ve got to find one who is worth a darn. Seeing that you have 8 picks, make sure you get Nix from Notre Dame.

    1. nothing like reading a little something from you, freds, and having a good belly laugh…makes my day…..maybe you should have been a marriage counselor…yeah, tell ’em a story and turn their whole lives around………

    2. Well, if we aren’t going to draft any defensive players, Freds, then you are right, we better get ourselves one hum-dinger of a QB, cuz we’re gonna need about 45 a game to make the playoffs.

  11. Playoffs. Who said anything about playoffs? Did you just say playoffs?
    We’re talking playoffs? Serious? Playoffs??

    1. Yes, Jim….er, I mean, Fran, we are in the NFC North. Everyone is a potential playoff team.

  12. More victims coming out against Sharper. Wow, serial rapsit. All sounds pretty bad. Not the Sharper-est knife in the drawer.

  13. QB official height and weights are in and shouldn’t cause any significant stock drops. Manziel comes in at 5 11 3/4, but everyone already new he wasn’t going to be over 6′, so that 1/4″ isn’t going to cost him. He only weighs 207, but his hands are actually bigger than both Teddy and Blake’s. I would say Bridgewater is the big winner with a 214 weight, some scouts thought he was under 200. Bortles is just a solid 6-5 232. Not really anything earth shattering here.

    1. yeah, I like him a lot…..we finally have a HC who is more important to the organization than “any player”…I think some of you who bleed Purple know what I mean…

  14. Every QB has strengths and weaknesses, and for every natural first-year wonder such as Andrew Luck and Tarkenton, there are 10 who need to marinate on the bench before they are ready to blossom. Ponder is the second type; Teddy has a chance to be the first type.

    Looking back at 2011, the Vikings have done absolutely everything right with Bridgewater, and they did absolutely everything very wrong with Ponder. Now, this does not speak of the core capabilities of the two players- Bridgewater’s college record and video record is clearly better in virtually every area related to NFL success except two- raw IQ as measured by the Wonderlic (and this measure is not particularly self-evidently that useful), and athletic size/running ability, where Ponder has a much more sturdy physique. It is interesting, however, that the more frail-appearing Bridgewater missed much less time due to injury in college than did Ponder, and Ponder has continued to be struck by the games-missed injury bug every year as a pro.

    However, the environmental differences are stark.

    o Pre-season advance preparation- in 2011 the CBA job action prevented any work, in 2014 every opportunity is available.

    o Coach competence- an offensive coordinator with a proven track record of success and personnel flexibility.

    o Coach self-assurance- Musgrave had a need to showcase his own genius; growing a QB was an element of that need; Norv Turner has nothing to prove other than to develop his son’s resume as a coach.

    o Offensive line/protection- 3 of 5 spots on the line were marginal or worse (LT, LG, RG), today this is a solid, and well-above average line.

    o Receiving corps- Michael Jenkins, Berrian, Aromashodu, and Shiancoe compared with Jennings, Patterson, Simpson, Wright, and contract-year Rudolph? Non further comment needed.

    o Running back and “box” predictability- under Musgrave, Peterson ran predictable plays on 1st and 2nd down, then left the field for 3-and-usually-long, inviting the front 7 and safeties to crowd the box and knife into the backfield; it seemed like Peterson either lost 3 yards or, occasionally, ran for 20. But there didn’t seem to be nearly as many of 3rd and 4 plays as there were 3rd and 14.

    o Solid veteran QB mentor(s)- Donovan McNabb, still trying to show off (and getting cut in the middle of the year after campaigning to be released) compared with “good guy teammates” Cassel and Ponder.
    Then there were minor improvements to the receiving corps in 2012, but everything else was worse, particularly the coaching and QB mentor situations.

    Teddy Bridgewater will end up succeeding in accordance with his ability, but his odds of doing so early are immeasurably enhanced by his far better post-draft situation.

    So what about Ponder? Is he a noodle-armed, receiver-staring, gutless wonder who needs to be run out of the league as fast as possible, as is suggested by some deluded “fans”?

    His history is that of a talented, smart, athletic football player with a good-enough but ordinary-though-low-velocity-NFL-arm, who is almost too coachable. And the opposite of a SOB with his teammates, leading some to say that he is a bumpkin unable to lead. Every one of these traits describes the 1990 version of Rich Gannon. Ponder will probably need to go elsewhere to achieve this, as other players also have- Gannon, Trent Green, Drew Brees, Chris Chandler, Kurt Warner, etc.

    But he is likely to make it eventually, because his weakest characteristics are the type that get better with experience. Right now, he has had his former nervous OC pound everything into his head at the same time instead of simply letting him go out and play football, the result being that you can see Ponder thinking too much on every play, and believing that he has to be the one to make all the pass plays work. That gets in the way of instinctive reaction and athletic performance. When alternatives become more reactive and result from muscle memory, instead of a need to process too many variables in each situation (staring down primary receivers tends to be a response that tries to limit the alternatives), the gunslinger instinct is released but within a range of experience with what a player understands works better for him.

    That is when they start to “get it” and really play. I expect Ponder to be a much better QB than Cassel at the same age.