Vikings focused on evaluating Ponder at QB
Today is the third day of two weeks of Minnesota Vikings coverage leading up to the April 25 beginning of the NFL Draft.
Today: Quarterbacks position preview
April 15: Running backs/fullbacks position preview
April 16: Offensive tackles position preview
April 17: Guards/centers position preview
April 18: Tight ends position preview
April 19: Wide receivers position preview
April 20: Defensive linemen position preview
April 21: Linebackers position preview
April 22: Cornerbacks position preview
April 23: Safeties position preview
April 24: Rick Spielman’s draft strategy
April 25: Forecasting the first-round picks
TODAY’S POSITION: QUARTERBACKS
Importance (1-to-10 scale): 3
On the roster
Despite all the conjecture when Minnesota signed veteran Matt Cassel, this is Christian Ponder’s job, for better or worse. Ponder has had a highly inconsistent two years as the Vikings’ starter, but the team has put all its trust in him and will ride him, at least, through the start of this season. But Ponder’s final evaluation is nearing, and his third season in the NFL, after being taken with the 12th pick in the 2011 draft, is pivotal. Ponder will seize the job for the future this season, or Minnesota could be looking for a long-term starter in next year’s draft.
The Vikings’ braintrust is encouraged by Ponder’s strong finish last year, when he didn’t commit a turnover over the final three weeks and helped Minnesota win four straight games to earn a playoff berth. Ponder had the best game of his young career in the regular-season finale against the Green Bay Packers, when he went 16 of 28 for 234 yards and three touchdowns in a win. He missed the playoff game with a deep triceps contusion but should be ready for offseason work.
Cassel is the insurance if Ponder gets injured, the veteran voice to help Ponder’s progression and maybe the push Ponder needs. Signed after being released by the Kansas City Chiefs, Cassel has starting experience and gives the Vikings a better backup option than Joe Webb, who flamed out in relief of Ponder in the playoff game. If the team does decide to pull the plug on Ponder at some point, Cassel is a logical transition quarterback. Webb is still around, but will be fighting for his spot on the roster with McLeod Bethel-Thompson, a strong-armed project who was inactive all 16 weeks while on the team’s roster last year.
Last five quarterbacks drafted
2011: Christian Ponder, Florida State: first round (12th overall) — still with the Vikings
2010: Joe Webb, Alabama Birmingham: sixth round (199th overall) — still with the Vikings
2008: John David Booty, Southern Cal: fifth round (137th overall) — released, September 2009, out of the NFL
2007: Tyler Thigpen, Coastal Carolina: seventh round (217th overall) — released, September 2007; currently a free agent after playing for the Buffalo Bills last year
2006: Tarvaris Jackson, Alabama State: second round (64th overall) — signed with Seattle Seahawks, July 2011; currently with the Buffalo Bills
Philosophy at the position
The Vikings need and philosophy at quarterback is simple: Make the occasional big play, don’t make mistakes and be, at least, a complement to MVP running back Adrian Peterson. Minnesota still believes Ponder can do all that. The Vikings have put their faith in him, and rightly have to see the decision through. It’s quite possible, if Minnesota sees another project it likes, that it could draft someone in the later rounds — maybe someone it believes has a chance to be an eventual starter should Ponder falter. But it’s more likely that all the team’s effort will be in establishing Ponder and drafting his replacement next year if things don’t work out.
Day 1 name to remember (Round 1)
Matt Barkley, senior, Southern Cal (6-2, 227). Many consider West Virginia’s Geno Smith as the only quarterback worthy of being taken in the first round. Smith is likely to be taken in the first half of the first round with a few quarterback-needy teams in the perfect spot to grab him. However, with the importance of having a strong quarterback in the NFL, the position always seem to drive the action at the draft, and its highly possible teams might try to jump into the bottom of the first round to secure a potential starter. Barkley, who played all four years at USC and would have been a high pick if he came out last year, is one of about three quarterbacks who could find their way into the first round. Barkley doesn’t have great arm strength or athleticism, but he has the intelligence, experience, accuracy and leadership potential to become an NFL starter, possibly in a West Coast or timing-based system. He threw for 3,528 yards and 39 touchdowns with seven interceptions and completed 69.1 percent of his passes as a junior but returned to school and finished with 3,273 yards, 36 touchdown passes, 15 interceptions and a 63.6 percent completion rate last season.
Barkley says: “I think you look at the experience I have playing this position. If you want to count high school, I played eight years straight of football, starting games. You don’t see that too often. And I think what I’ve had to endure at USC has been unique. It’s not a traditional quarterback experience in college with all the ups and downs, with coaches leaving, with the NCAA sanctions, what we’ve had to deal with, keeping that team together. I think I possess leadership that’s pretty unique. And the arm strength and athleticism, that’s there.”
Day 2 name to remember (Rounds 2-3)
Ryan Nassib, senior, Syracuse (6-2, 227). A three-year starter at Syracuse, Nassib has a strong arm and quick release. He’s strong and considered a very tough player, but he’s not overly athletic. Is said to have the dreaded “happy feet” for a quarterback, which means he’ll likely have to improve his footwork. He completed 62.4 percent of his passes each of his last two seasons. Last year, he threw for 2,749 yards, 26 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He does have experience in two different pro-style offenses. His natural connection with new Buffalo coach Doug Marrone, his coach at Syracuse, has led analysts to put the two together with the Bills needing a long-term answer at the position. Buffalo owns the eighth and 40th overall picks.
Day 3 name to remember (Rounds 4-7)
Matt Scott, senior, Arizona (6-2, 213). Scott is one player whose name has been mentioned more and more as the draft approaches. He has good athleticism and a strong enough arm to play at the NFL level. He is considered a project who has really only had one full season as a starter. Last year he completed 60.3 percent of his passes for 3,620 yards, 27 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, and he might be a “system” quarterback who benefited from a spread offense. After losing his job to Nick Foles in 2010, he redshirted in 2011, giving him another chance to show himself after Foles went to the NFL. A strong arm and good mobility could have teams looking for the next Russell Wilson, but Wilson had much more experience when he was a third-round pick last year.
FOXSports.com’s draft expert Taylor Jones says: “The fact that there is no dominant quarterback probably limits the maneuverability of teams with top picks trying to acquire multiple picks. There isn’t the demand to trade up for some of these teams unless that’s manufactured over the next 20 days, which always seems to be the case. Quarterbacks get pushed higher and higher as the draft gets closer. At this point, I don’t particularly think anyone’s deserving of a first-round grade except for Geno Smith. And he’s interesting because you’re only at the top of the draft because you have a quarterback need, really. Outside of Kansas City, who went after Alex Smith, he could go any number of positions in the top 10. If he doesn’t, he could slide a long ways similar to what Aaron Rodgers did with the Packers.”
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