The injury-prone passer appeared to be a late second rounder at best, yet the Vikings reached and nabbed him at No. 12 overall. I understand that concept of getting your guy wherever you can if you believe he’s the future of your team, but that kind of reach had “bust” written all over it. Even trading down a few slots would have been a better option.
So when Ponder took over as starter midway through the 2011 campaign, expectations were high that the rookie would yield better results than his predecessor Donovan McNabb. Although his first NFL action against the Chicago Bears was promising, the 2011 season was all downhill from there.
In between numerous injuries and untimely interceptions, Ponder struggled with poor pass protection. It became routine for the rookie to run for his life as the offensive line crumbled at his feet. Still, he stood tall and finished out the season as the Vikings’ apparent passer of the future.
The upside shined through, though.
Combining terrific athleticism with surprising accuracy, Ponder showed the confidence that most rookie quarterbacks lack. When he received some semblance of pass blocking, he stood in the pocket and made the necessary throws. Above all else, he gave the Vikings a quality quarterback with the ability to orchestrate wins.
These aforementioned positives of Ponder’s play have been blatantly obvious since the Vikings’ 2012 campaign kicked off.
While leading the Vikings to a 1-1 record to start the season, Ponder has amassed an impressive, league-leading 75.6 completion percentage. A whole 62 attempts into the season, and he has yet to throw a single interception. Ponder has been sacked six times and fumbled twice – both lost – but that’s due in large part to continued struggles along the offensive line. His current 110.6 passer rating is a huge improvement over 2011’s 70.1.
In general, Ponder has been doing his part in making plays for the Vikings offense and putting the ball where it needs to be for his receivers to make plays. When the pressure is on, he has done a solid job of using his feet to extend plays and has showed an improved presence as a field general. The confidence and leadership are there.
The long ball has yet to factor into the Minnesota passing attack, but that should change once Jerome Simpson returns from his suspension on Monday. Meanwhile, Percy Harvin has taken on a huge workload, carrying the Vikings’ aerial assault with his short completions accompanied by big YAC yards.
Assuming Ponder can keep this pace as the season matures, the Vikings “franchise” quarterback could be headed for a breakout year. The biggest deciding factors will be whether or not the offensive line can batten down the hatches and if his wide receivers not named Harvin can find ways to make plays consistently.
The potential is there for this to be a monster season for Ponder. If that’s the case, the future for the Vikings might not be as dim as originally anticipated.