Christian Ponder has really been getting slapped around by the national media recently. His recent play has been erratic (at best) and loathsome (at worst). Questions abound, like from Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio, who questioned in an interview with Adrian Peterson of whether AP thought he would have even more yards if the Vikings had a decent passing game. Or Fox’s Jimmy Johnson commenting on national TV that Ponder should have his new wife Samantha Steele “teach him to throw” because Ponder “has been horrible”. Or how about Grantland’s football expert Bill Barnwell crowning Ponder with two of the worst INTs of the season so far? The national reviews for Ponder have not been flattering.
Now ESPN’s Bill Simmons and Grantland creator is weighing in as well. In Simmons’ recent breakdown of the top 45 quarterbacks in the NFL, (yes, you read that right, Top 45!), Christian Ponder came in at 36th. Simmons’ analysis lumped Ponder in with Jacksonville’s Blaine Gabbert. Ouch. This is the man we’re trusting to guide us through two crucial final regular season games and bring us to the playoffs. Here’s what Simmons had to say:
“36. Christian Ponder
37. Blaine Gabbert
What’s enough of a “Sorry, this guy sucks” sample size? Seems like we’re already there with Gabbert. And we’re getting there with Ponder even though he got destroyed by Percy Harvin’s injury — do you realize Minnesota’s best remaining receiving “threats” are Kyle Rudolph (45 catches, 412 yards, 8 TDs), Michael Jenkins (34 catches, 360 yards, 1 TD), Jerome Simpson (15 catches, 176 yards, 0 TDs) and Devin Aromashodu (11 catches, 182 yards, 0 TDs)? Even so, you’d think Adrian Peterson’s incredible season would at least allow Minnesota to successfully run 10 play-action passes per game, right? I’m more anti-Ponder than pro-Ponder, although I can see both sides. I just don’t think he’s that good. What’s his ultimate ceiling? Poor Man’s Rich Gannon?
Quick tangent: The 2011 draft was a good example of my Draft Cluster theory. Sometimes with the NBA draft or NFL draft, you end up with a glut of prospects at a certain position, with the sheer numbers getting everyone irrationally excited about the players within that group. And for whatever reason, that irrational excitement keeps going and going for years until everyone realizes, “Wait, what the hell just happened?” In 2011, Newton, Locker, Ponder, Dalton, Gabbert, Kaepernick and Ryan Mallett were all considered top-40 picks during a spring when an inordinate number of teams needed to hit the “reset” button at QB. Six went in the top 33 (with Mallet falling to Round 3) for the always-dangerous reason, “Everyone wants a QB this year; I need to get mine before they do.” (That’s how you ended up with moments like “J.J. Watt going one spot after Gabbert” and “Ryan Kerrigan going five picks after Ponder.”) From there, everyone just blindly thought these guys were going to produce — after all, THAT WAS AN AWESOME QB DRAFT, RIGHT???? You can’t say “Give Ponder and Gabbert more time because those were high draft picks” because the circumstances that led to those selections were fairly unique. You are who you are. And from what we’ve seen, there’s just no real evidence that either guy is very good. Anyway …”
Ponder has two fantastic games to show he’s better than the way he’s been playing recently. He has two prime opportunities to prove everyone in Minnesota and most people nationally wrong. These next two games could be the death knell for Ponder’s time as an NFL starter or the point we remember he turned the corner.