How Christian Ponder’s second season as an NFL quarterback goes largely depends upon how his greatest asset in the receiving game is doing.
Percy Harvin’s earlier complaints and trade demands seem to be behind him, and he downplayed the severity of the situation over Twitter. After he showed up to the final day of Mandatory Mini-Camps, he tweeted “I’m really clueless on the crazy reports…had great prac today ….to all my real fans and real vikes fans see u at Mankato..salute” (@Percy_Harvin).
I'm going to assume that the situation is over for the purpose of this article, seeing as Harvin seems content. I think Ponder has a real shot to take great strides in the coming season, and it is all contingent on Harvin. Here’s why.
He is slowly becoming one of the league’s elite weapons. Harvin left high school as the No.1 prospect in the country with the versatility to play both wide receiver and running back. His unparalleled skills got him into the University of Florida. He turned many heads during his three years there, collecting 1,852 rushing yards, 1,929 receiving yards, and 32 total touchdowns (via sports-reference.com).
Those numbers were more than enough to vault him into a first round pick. That unique skill-set has been on display in Minnesota for three seasons. He is third in the league in all-purpose yards since he was drafted (via Pro-Football-Reference.com) Harvin has the skill-set of a wide receiver, instincts of a running back, and the mentality of a linebacker. Because of this, the guy is irreplaceable.
Harvin and Ponder starting clicking near the end of last season, and the stats show it. During the final seven games, Harvin collected 581 receiving yards and caught six touchdowns. Compare that to his first nine, where he had 386 yard with zero touchdowns(via espn.com). Ponder had found a guy he could trust, which is huge for young quarterbacks. It’s not a guarantee, but it certainly helps if the quarterback can rely on his guys.
Take a look at Ben Roethlisberger. He came into the league and had Hines Ward from the start. Ward helped turn a guy who was barely a game manager for the Steelers as a rookie into a borderline elite quarterback.
Another example is Cam Newton. He had Steve Smith who is one of the best in the game, although he is slowing down a bit. Newton came into the league with people questioning whether he could succeed or not, and Smith helped Newton prove that he can.
If that experience were to leave, this season would essentially become a second rookie year for ponder, with very few of his same targets returning. This could hinder his development beyond repair, like it has for many quarterbacks before.
Another thing to look at is the inexperience and unreliability of the position outside of Harvin. If Ponder didn’t have Harvin to throw to, he would be surrounded by a group of receivers who are first or second year players with almost no experience (Greg Childs, Jarius Wright, Emmanuel Arceneaux, Stephen Burton, and a few other undrafted guys), or guys who have underperformed their whole careers (Michael Jenkins, Jerome Simpson, and Devin Aromashodu).
Harvin is the leader of this seemingly rag-tag group, and he brings help in the running game as well. That help could be essential this year with Adrian Peterson coming off of his surgery. Harvin’s abilities will allow the Vikings to ease Peterson back in more slowly.
Add in his dynamic returning skills, even though he will most likely be pulled from them this year, and the guy becomes an almost invaluable member of the Vikings. I mention this because I assume if he does get pulled, he will still occasionally return some kicks when the team needs a big play.
I know many people are thinking “What about his migraines? How can you trust him to be on the field?” To that I simply say that Harvin has missed only three games in his three year career, and one of those wasn’t even for migraines. For a guy that runs like he does, that’s great. Last year, he played all 16 games and his migraines rarely affected him. Sure he has missed practice before, which is unfortunate, but he makes up for it on game day.
When all is said and done, I think the Vikings' next few seasons depend more on Harvin than any other player besides Ponder. He is one of the few people in the NFL that I will actually call a beast, because there really is no other word to describe him.