Don’t let the title of this article fool you, we’re not suggesting that the Christian Ponder era is under way now or anytime in the immediate future for the Minnesota Vikings. But it is helpful to start from the Florida State Rookie QB’s perspective when analyzing the current status and future prospects for the Vikings QB Corps, so that is what we’ll be doing over the next few paragraphs.
If you’re a Vikings fan, you are no doubt longing once again for the ageless magic of 2009 when it comes to Minnesota quarterbacks. Brett Favre almost inexplicably turned back the clock and came within a few plays (and one very costly mistake against the Saints) of leading that squad to the Super Bowl. But one short year later in 2010, the Favre/Joe Webb combination at QB threw for just under 3,000 yards, coupled with 11 TDs and 22 INTs. That’s pretty much a textbook case of ineffective play no matter who is under center, and so it was that in a year when no one had to fear the Vikings’ passing game, Adrian Peterson was held to a career low in carries, and the offense was held to a lackluster 23rd ranking in total offense, and 26th in total team passing.
2011 will be a different case however, if for no other reason than that the Vikings got YOUNGER at QB by adding 34 year old veteran QB Donovan McNabb as the short-term solution for their need at the position. Say what you want about McNabb, he will do something this year that Favre and Webb could not – he will keep the passing game just enough of a threat so that teams will at least have to line up honestly with seven men in the box against the pass. McNabb has shown that he can survive and thrive with even a modest collection of weapons around him, and he certainly has a modest receiving corps around him this year. But Percy Harvin, Bernard Berrian, Michael Jenkins and Visanthe Shiancoe can at least provide him with serviceable options, and those options will in turn keep teams honest against both the run and the pass in 2011.
As for the rest of the Vikings’ QBs, I don’t think that anyone would suggest that either Joe Webb or Christian Ponder will strike great fear in the heart of any defensive coordinator at this point. But on the other hand, each one should be serviceable, they both have reasons to like them coming off the bench. Webb showed promise last year, particularly in his 24-14 upset bid over the Philadelphia Eagles late in the season. He’s a converted WR who has shown that he has the heart and the talent to lead when called upon, but its tough to see him ever being the full-time, #1 option for the Vikings.
Ponder, on the other hand, has been shown the keys to the franchise, with the expectation that he’ll be in the driver’s seat in a few short years. Before you get all up in arms about this being Adrian Peterson’s team (and it is for now), consider this time line with me, injuries nonwithstanding:
++ 2011: McNabb (34 yrs old) & Peterson (26 yrs old) start in the Vikings’ backfield.
++ 2012: McNabb (35) & Peterson (27) are the likely starters once again.
++ 2013: McNabb (36) may give way to Ponder, Peterson (28) still starting at RB.
But assuming that 2013 is the earliest we’d see Ponder as the full-time guy in Minnesota, remember that by then Adrian Peterson will have around 1,800 total carries to his credit, and around 2,100 total touches when you include receptions. By the time Ponder takes the full load as a starter, presumably in 2014, Peterson will be 29 years old and most likely hitting the end of his prime as a featured RB. I know that’s tough to imagine now, but with the rare exception of the Emmitt Smith’s of the world, running backs that go over the 30 year plateau rarely find their early form again. They go downhill fast, and violent runners like AP tend to see sharp drops in production over their later years.
What that all means is that when Ponder is asked to take the reins for good, he will be the cornerstone of the offense. It also means that for right now, while the Vikings still have a healthy veteran presence in the lineup, it’s incumbent upon Ponder to soak up everything that he can from McNabb about how to play the position. The Vikings deserve some credit for bringing on both an able-bodied veteran AND a Super Bowl-caliber mentor for their QB of the future. By the time the future gets here for Christian Ponder, McNabb’s lasting value to this team in what he passed on to Ponder will be on display every week. For Vikings fans, you can “Ponder” the future now while enjoying the Donovan McNabb era in 2011.