Ponder may have been a reach, but he could still be the answer.
The Minnesota Vikings were supposed to compete for a Super Bowl in 2010. Instead, Brett Favre didn't live up to expectations, and the rest of the Vikings imploded. Brad Childress was fired, Randy Moss was cut, and Minnesota's season went up in flames.
You can argue where it started or how or why it all went down the way that it did, but one major fact that people somehow miss is that the team from 2009 to 2010 was way too similar. The Vikings made a major mistake by letting go of third down back Chester Taylor, and assuming the same exact roster on both sides of the ball could continue the momentum.
That didn't turn out to be the case at all, and now Minnesota entered the 2011 NFL Draft seeking some major answers. Let's see what they found:
Round 1 (Pick 12) - Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State
The Vikings are already saying it would be "ideal" for Ponder to be ready to take over as the starting quarterback in 2011 from day one. Well, when you're the 12th pick, you'd imagine that would at least be an aspiration.
True, Ponder is a reach here. He was taken over Ryan Mallett, Colin Kaepernick, and Andy Dalton, three quarterbacks who many viewed as much better prospects. And even aside from the position, it was quite arguable that Minnesota had plenty of other needs, and that they could have gotten much better value at this spot.
Argue all you want, but the Vikings were looking for a polished passer to come in and manage their team right away, a la Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan. It may have been a reach, but I still think they found the guy they were looking for.
Round 2 (Pick 43) - Kyle Rudolph, TE, Notre Dame
Minnesota could have used a big defensive tackle, another pass rusher, or any selection to help their secondary, but instead of draft for a defensive need, they do their boy Christian Ponder a favor and get him a safety net weapon. Visanthe Shiancoe is over 30 and his play was very inconsistent in 2010, so it may be time to look to the future at tight end. Rudolph is a big target with solid speed and athleticism for the position. Not an immediate need, but this ends up being a pretty solid pick.
Round 4 (Pick 106) - Christian Ballard, DT, Iowa
Pat Williams and Kevin Williams will miss the first four games of the 2011 season, while Pat Williams may simply retire or leave to another team. Either way you look at it, the Vikings interior defensive line is shot to start the year, so they were wise to go after a big, strong talent like Ballard. He was arguably a day one prospect, but somehow he fell all the way to the fourth round, giving Minnesota one heck of a steal.
Grade the Vikings 2011 draft class
Round 5 (Pick 139) - Brandon Burton, CB, Utah
Burton needs some work refining his coverage ability, but he's still a talented corner that probably has the ability to have been taken a couple rounds earlier. Minnesota once again sniffs out a solid prospect and makes another quality value pick for a position that desperately needs more talent and competition.
Round 6 (Pick 168) - DeMarcus Love, T, Arkansas
Minnesota's offensive line is lethargic at times and ultra inconsistent. The big DeMarcus Love comes on board to help change that. This is Minnesota's third quality value pick in a row, as they continue to find very good talent late in the draft.
Round 6 (Pick 170) - Mistral Raymond, DB, Richmond
Raymond packs some solid versatility and athleticism to give the Vikings another body to throw in the mix of their secondary. Raymond will likely start out as a special teamer, but he has the potential to work into a more useful role down the road.
Round 6 (Pick 172) - Brandon Fusco, C, Slippery Rock- 6’4 306
Fusco is a talented and versatile offensive lineman that slipped further than he should have. Minnesota continues to beef up their offensive line, with Fusco being had at tremendous value way down in the sixth round. He has the talent to work his way into a starting position within a couple of seasons, and possibly right away.
Round 6 (Pick 200) - Ross Homan, ILB, Ohio State
Homan isn't a freak athlete, but he's all over the field and commands the middle as good as any other middle linebacker in this year's draft. The Vikings haven't been getting elite play out of their middle linebackers, so this is a quality add of a player that could surprise some people by just flat-out getting it done at the next level. Great value pick.
Round 7 (Pick 215) - D’Aundre Reed, DE, Arizona
Ray Edwards could be on his way out of Minnesota, so adding a talent with some potential like Reed on the line is a great move here in the seventh round. Reed has a ways to go, but he has some upside.
Round 7 (Pick 236) - Stephen Burton, WR, West Texas A&M
Burton may not end up sticking with the team, but he's a solid, balanced receiver that can come in and do what is asked of him. Bernard Berrian should be out of the league and Sidney Rice may not return to Minnesota so grabbing a reliable receiving option for Christian Ponder with the final pick is a solid move.
I would have liked to see more action in the secondary early, but the Vikings ended up doing a great job in the end, attacking major holes and adding depth and competition to several key positions. Reaching for Ponder at 12 hurts their grade, but they still got the type of passer they were looking for; one that is smart, can lead, and can step in and perform right away. The four excellent value picks make this draft much better than some are saying.
Overall Grade: A-