When it comes to quarterback play, especially in the NFC North, the Green Bay Packers are fortunate. Not only have the Packers transitioned from one Hall of Fame quarterback to another, but they also possess the top passer in a division stocked with talented arms. The NFC North is one of only two divisions where every starting quarterback has led their team to the playoffs.
In the modern NFL where passing and the ability to defend the pass are the strongest indicators of wins and losses, it’s important for Green Bay to keep tabs on the quarterbacks it sees most often.
With that in mind, we here at lombardiave.com kick off this three-part series by profiling the resume and projecting the future for one of the NFC North’s other quarterbacks.
So without further adieu, the first NFC North quarterback under the microscope is…
Name: Christian Ponder
Team: Minnesota Vikings
Experience: 27 games, 26 starts
Resume: Having just turned 25, Christian Ponder is the youngest and least experienced starting quarterback in the NFC North. However, Ponder started at Florida State University for three seasons, which may give us a clearer idea of the type of player he is. What’s immediately apparent when examining Ponder’s college career is just how conservative he plays. Not once in his three years starting at Florida State did Ponder throw more interceptions than touchdowns. Also, with 2009 being the lone exception, Ponder never averaged more than 6.8 yards per attempt.
Ponder’s professional career has largely reflected this. In two years in Minnesota, Ponder has averaged 6.2 yards per pass attempt. That figure falls about one yard per pass behind Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler, and nearly two yards behind division leader Aaron Rodgers. More troubling for Ponder is the scarcity of scoring. Ponder’s throws only end in a touchdown 4 percent of the time, a division worst. Over that same period, Rodgers’ passes produced touchdowns at an 8 percent clip. While each quarterback is at wildly different stages of the development process, they’re competing for the same goals in the same division at the same time, thus necessitating the comparison. Needless to say, Ponder has a lot of ground to cover.
Projection: After analyzing Ponder’s conservative Florida State career as well as his first two campaigns in Minnesota, one has to wonder: Will Ponder ever become more of a risk taker, and does he need to for the Vikings to contend for a championship? It seems pretty safe to say that the answer to the first question is doubtful. While he will surely cut down on mistakes and take advantage of defensive errors more often as he matures, Ponder has never at any point displayed the temperament necessary to become a truly elite passer. Even if the Vikings improve at the wide receiver position, Ponder will still default to the short game more often than not. Big passing plays will have to come after the catch, which means the Vikings would be well advised to meet Percy Harvin’s contract demands.
The answer to the second part of the question is more difficult. Minnesota has constructed its offense around Adrian Peterson and the running game. While Peterson performs at his current historic levels, it’s not necessary for Ponder to become an air raid quarterback. He does need to increase his touchdown efficiency, but probably not by all that much.
Where the Vikings will run into trouble is when Peterson’s production falls off. Only two years away from 30, and with 1,754 carries and a torn ACL already endured, Peterson won’t be the NFL’s pre-eminent running back for that much longer.
When the time comes, Ponder doesn’t project to cover enough of the difference to keep Minnesota’s offense at a Super Bowl contending level. For that forecast to change, Ponder has to make vast improvements this season. Few quarterbacks dramatically change their production after their third year starting.
If it doesn’t happen this year for Ponder, it’s pretty safe to write him off as anything more than a caretaker.
Jason Hirschhorn covers the Green Bay Packers for Lombardi Ave. He has previously written for Hail to the Orange, College Hoops Net, Mocking the Draft, LiveBall Sports, and the List Universe. He is currently a senior writer for Beats Per Minute, an indie-music webzine. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/JBHirschhorn.