Like in years past, there is always one player who gains momentum a couple weeks before the draft that may be just enough to propel him into the first round. This year, he is former Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder.
Of all the quarterback prospects, Ponder has the most experience being under center and has great fundamentals. He is an accurate passer who relies on great timing and coverage recognition, more so than a huge powerful arm. Talent scouts have dubbed him a West Coast quarterback, which basically means, he is a smart accurate passer, but has absolutely no arm strength.
Ponder showed up to the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., in the shadows of Jake Locker and Colin Kaepernick as they seemed to be garnering the most attention. By the end of the week, Ponder had proved during each practice that he was the most NFL ready quarterback and backed it up by being named the game’s MVP.
He showed a certain level of comfort taking snaps from under center and had very impressive elusiveness inside the pocket. By that, I mean, he recognized pressure and had a calm pocket presence in which he made subtle movements to elude tacklers, reset his feet and throw a strike to his receiver downfield.
With Ponder as my fourth best quarterback prospect and 45th overall, he may be a key cog in the gamesmanship of teams trading up into the late first round or early second round to pick him up. Whichever team that is, they will be getting a very intelligent player both on and off the field.
Ponder received his degree from FSU in just 2 1/2 years, and that same level of intelligence shows up on the field as well. One major concern for teams evaluating Ponder will be his injury filled college career. Just last season, he battled an elbow injury all year, and capped off his college career with a concussion in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.
When I watch Ponder play, he shows flashes of both Chris Simms and Colt McCoy, but the player he most reminds me of is Brodie Croyle who was selected 85th overall by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2006. Croyle and Ponder have similar arm strength, but I think Ponder’s mental capacity and patience as a passer elevate him into the top 50 of the draft.
Ponder may grow into a future starter, but in the interim, he will make a solid back-up that will be snap ready without needing a ton of reps throughout the week to gain an understanding of the offense.
As we look at the players ranked 11 through 20, I see a group that could provide great value and many years of consistent production. This group is filled with defensive lineman, with four ends and one tackle.
You will also find the highest rated interior offensive lineman and a pair of offensive tackles in this grouping. But first and foremost, the two players that jump off the page are former Heisman Trophy winners in Mark Ingram and Cam Newton.
I have Newton ranked as my 17th best player in this draft, but I will admit, he will go much higher than this projection. He will most likely go No. 1 overall, but as I continue to evaluate players and project their potential for career success, I just can’t convince myself that Newton’s style of play will translate into the NFL. Ingram is a different story as he justifiably continues to draw comparison to Emmitt Smith.
In Ingram, I see a player that runs "angry" with a strong powerful lower body. I think he is a back that will end up proving to be worthy of a first-round pick, but the problem for Ingram is the value that teams may get in running backs such as Ryan Williams, Daniel Thomas and Kendall Hunter in later rounds. Because of that, he very easily could fall out of the first round , especially if the Dolphins and Patriots pass on him with both of their first-round picks.
J.J. Watt and Cameron Jordan are very comparable and a team looking for an immediate impact as a five-technique along a 3-4 defensive front could easily make an argument for either player. In the long run, they would be happy with either.
Finally, you will find Mike Pouncey sitting at 19 and the best interior lineman in this draft. Pouncey provides the versatility to play guard or center, but ultimately I see him as a starting guard early in his rookie season.