Predicting Second-Year Numbers for Minnesota Vikings QB Christian Ponder
The Minnesota Vikings are only three weeks away from the opening of training camp. After last season the Vikings needed to upgrade the offensive line, add depth at cornerback and wide receiver and find anyone that could make a play from the safety position.
General manager Rick Spielman addressed the offensive line with the free-agent signing of Geoff Schwartz and the selection of USC tackle Matt Kalil with the fourth pick in the draft.
Schwartz, a three-year veteran from Carolina, missed the entire 2011 season due to a hip injury and will fill one of the guard positions vacated with the departure of Steve Hutchinson and Anthony Herrera. Kalil will take over at left tackle, moving Charlie Johnson back inside to play the other guard position.
At cornerback, Spielman signed veterans Chris Carr from Baltimore and Zack Bowman from Chicago to provide more experience. He also drafted Josh Robinson out of Central Florida with the third-round pick. Robinson was rated the sixth-best corner according to WalterFootball.com.
The wide receiver position has been addressed with the drafting of Arkansas receivers Jarius Wright and Greg Childs in the fourth round and the signing of Jerome Simpson from Cincinnati. Simpson, the Bengals' second-round draft pick in 2008, caught 50 passes for 725 yards and four touchdowns in 2011. Projected to be the Vikings' No. 1 receiver after serving a three-game suspension, Simpson's numbers from last season would have been the second best for the Vikings behind Percy Harvin.
The Vikings traded their way back into the end of the first round in order to draft safety Harrison Smith out of Notre Dame with the 29th pick. They added his teammate, Robert Blanton, in the fifth round. A cornerback in college, Blanton will be moved to safety.
For good measure Spielman also added an upgrade at tight end with the signing of Minnesota native John Carlson. Carlson, the Seahawks' second-round pick in 2008, joins fellow Notre Dame alum Kyle Rudolph giving the Vikings a good pass-catching tandem at tight end.
Now the success, or failure, of the Minnesota Vikings rests squarely upon the shoulders—or, more accurately, the right arm—of second-year quarterback Christian Ponder.
Gone are the excuses of last season. Ponder is no longer a rookie. With no lockout, he's had a full offseason to work with offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave. The offensive line will be better, giving him more time to go through his progressions, and the receiving corps has been improved.
Still, it is only the start of Ponder's second year in the NFL, and while on paper the Vikings look to be improved, it may take time for things to come together, as the revamped offensive line learns to work together as a unit, and Ponder develops rapport with his new receivers.
After taking over as the starting quarterback for Donovan McNabb in Week 7 last year, Ponder finished the season with a 2-8 record. He completed 54.3 percent of his passes for 1,853 yards with 13 touchdowns and 13 interceptions—good for only a 70.1 passer rating.
Here's a pre-camp rundown predicting how well Ponder will play in 2012.
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Christian Ponder was named the starting quarterback at Florida State before the start of his sophomore season. He won the position over former starter and returning senior Drew Weatherford.
Ponder started all 13 games for the Seminoles that season—the only year he can claim that.
A shoulder injury suffered in the ninth game of his junior year against Clemson knocked him out for the season. In his senior year, he missed two games due to shoulder and elbow injuries and only attempted five passes in the 2010 Chick-fil-A Bowl against South Carolina.
Last year as a rookie Ponder started the final 10 games of the season after being named the starter in Week 7. In Ponder's 10 starts, backup quarterback Joe Webb saw action in five of them, finishing the games at Detroit in Week 14, at Washington in Week 16 and against the Bears in Week 17.
With better protection behind an improved offensive line, Ponder should get hit less, improving his chances of staying in the starting lineup.
Ponder will open the season as the starter. With his history, he will miss at least two starts with various ailments.
Starts: 14, marking it the most games he has ever played in a season
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In the 10 games Christian Ponder started last season he averaged 175 yards per game.
His best game came against the Denver Broncos in Week 13 when he threw for 381 yards on 20-of-47 passing with three touchdowns and two interceptions.
The low point came in Week 17 against Chicago when he went only 4-of-10 for 28 yards and was unable to finish the game.
A better offensive line will give Ponder more time to progress through his reads, and the addition of Jerome Simpson in Week 4 adds a downfield target for Ponder.
With more consistent play, the numbers will be better.
Passing Yards: 3,200 yards, averaging just better than 225 yards in his 14 starts
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Christian Ponder finished his college career at Florida State completing 61.8 percent of his passes.
During his junior season he was connecting on nearly 70 percent of his passes before suffering the shoulder injury that ended his season in the ninth game that year. Over his last three years at FSU Ponder averaged 316 attempts with an average completion percentage of 64 percent.
As a rookie he completed 158 of 291 passes in 11 games for the Vikings, a 54.3 percent completion rate.
Head coach Leslie Frazier has indicated that Toby Gerhart will carry the load at running back early in the season until Adrian Peterson is fully recovered from his knee injury. The plan is to increase Gerhart's role in the offense for 2012, which indicates the Vikings intend to utilize the running game as much as possible, minimizing the need to pass the ball.
The effectiveness of the running game will have an impact on how often the Vikings will throw the ball.
With a healthy Antoine Winfield and the return of Chris Cook at cornerback, along with an upgrade at safety, the Vikings defense will be improved. A better defense will lead to fewer scores by the opposition, and thus, less need of the offense to pass the ball.
Completion Percentage: 58 percent; improved under better manageable conditions, but not great
The upgrade at wide receiver and tight end will help in this category.
The Vikings ranked 18th in the NFL with only 20 touchdowns through the air, and Christian Ponder threw 13 of them.
Last season Percy Harvin led the Vikings with only six touchdowns receptions. There was a four-way tie for second with Toby Gerhart, Kyle Rudolph, Visanthe Shiancoe and Micheal Jenkins all with three.
Opening the 2012 season as the starter from Week 1, that number will go up. However, the Vikings will continue to use the run once they get inside the red zone, especially when Adrian Peterson makes his return to the lineup.
Touchdowns: 17 touchdowns in 14 starts, an increase from 13 touchdowns in 10 starts
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Last season Christian Ponder tried to do too much. He made the rookie mistake of forcing the ball to his receivers in situations.
Also, his arm strength has been an issue since the Vikings drafted him with the 12th pick of the 2011 draft. The concern is his ability to throw the out pattern successfully.
With a full offseason of work and a better understanding of the Vikings' offense, this will be the one area Ponder shows the most improvement.
Last season he finished with 13 interceptions, averaging one every 22.4 attempts. At Florida State he averaged 32.2 attempts between interceptions.
Interceptions: 11, fewer interceptions with more attempts than last season
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Christian Ponder was sacked 30 times last season, an average of three per start. Sacks are only a part of the equation that defines the pressure a quarterback is under, as he was constantly under duress being hurried and hit.
The ineffectiveness of the offensive line is attributed to the fact that only two linemen started all 16 games.
Unfortunately, one of them was Charlie Johnson, who struggled at left tackle. This year, with first-round draft pick Matt Kalil slated to take over at left tackle, Johnson will move to guard, a position better suited for the six-year veteran
The other guard position will be manned by Geoff Schwartz, a free agent from Carolina who missed last season with a hip injury. Schwartz, a seventh-round draft pick in 2008, started all 16 games for the Panthers in 2010.
The improved offensive line should give Ponder more time to find a receiver and go through his progressions, and with an improved receiving corps, Ponder should have more options when he drops back.
A full offseason working with team will give him a better grasp of the Vikings offense and a better idea of when to get rid of the ball.
Ponder feels the game has slowed down for him, which should lead improved play for the second-year quarterback.
Sacks: 21 sacks over 14 starts, a 50 percent reduction over last season
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Last season Christian Ponder ran the ball 28 times for 219 yards. Because of the pressure from the defense, he didn't have the time to look for an open receiver and tucked the ball and ran.
This is something the Vikings don't want to see him do nearly as often in 2012.
An improved offensive line, and deeper receiving corps and a better grasp of the offense should minimize the rushing attempts for Ponder.
Rushing Yards: 170 yards
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I will stay consistent in my predictions for the Vikings' win total in 2012 at seven.
Christian Ponder will be better than last year but will still be in learning mode as the Vikings continue to rebuild around him.
Record: 6-8 in 14 starts with Joe Webb going 1-1 in the other two games