Florida State’s Christian Ponder has become the trendy choice for Seattle for two reasons – he’s accurate, and the belief is Seattle will move more toward a traditional West Coast passing game with Darrell Bevell now the team’s offensive coordinator, which means an emphasis on the short passing game with a premium on accuracy over arm strength.
Whether that happens or not I think is debatable, because head coach Pete Carroll has emphasized creating offensive balance through a physical running game and then using the play-action pass to push the ball down field off of that, the same offensive philosophy he used during his days at USC.
But if Seattle does go to more of a short passing game, then Ponder could be the right pick in the second round. I think he would be a bit of a reach for Seattle in the first because he does not have a strong arm to push the ball down the field and he has some medical issues.
Ponder’s 23 years old and shined in both the Senior Bowl and the NFL scouting combine. He was named MVP of the Senior Bowl, and some draft analysts felt he had the best throwing performance of any quarterback during the combine.
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Ponder also played in a pro-style offense at Florida State and intelligence is considered one of his strengths, so he doesn’t feel like the transition to the NFL will be tough for him to make.
“I really think I’m the whole package at quarterback,” Ponder told reporters during his interview session the combine. “I have great accuracy and can make all the throws. Intelligence is a huge advantage for me, being able to comprehend offenses and defenses. We ran a complex offense at Florida State and I think it will carry over well to the NFL. I’m athletic enough to move in the pocket and make plays with my feet.
“We ran multiple formations at Florida State, and had tons of different pass protections. I did a lot of checking at the line. Just talking to scouts already I’ve learned a lot of stuff that they do we’ve already been doing at Florida State. I think it’s a huge advantage for me.” At 6-foot-2, 222 pounds, Ponder’s big enough to take the pounding in the NFL, and he has underrated athletic ability, with his 4.65 40-yard-time one example of that.
Ponder completed 61.5 percent of his passes and threw for 2,044 yards, including 20 touchdowns and eight interceptions his senior season. He was sacked 23 times. His junior season he completed 68.8 percent of his passes, throwing for 2,717 yards with 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He was sacked 15 times.
But in listening to ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper talk about Ponder, he provided some interesting numbers within those statistics.
Kiper said Ponder’s accuracy on third down was not where it should be, which he thought should be around 60 percent. Ponder had a 52.4 completion percentage on third down his senior year, and that number dropped to 45 or 46 percent against ranked teams, according to Kiper.
Kiper said at his best, Ponder could be someone like Chad Pennington, a smart, accurate quarterback who lacks arm strength but still had some success in the league.
“He’s a smart kid, tremendously intelligent,” Kiper said. “I like that. He’s certainly a guy when you talk about accuracy, pretty good. It’s not Chad Pennington-like, who I compared him to during his career – but it’s similar. Arm strength is average, getting the ball down field sometimes, his accuracy is not as good as you need it to be.
“It’s just inconsistent film evaluation, the injury thing I think affected that this year. He didn’t always have the best of talent around him. He’s an interesting guy. I could make a valid argument for Christian Ponder to be a second-round pick. I could make an argument for him to be a fifth-round pick. So I would think somebody in the second or third round takes Christian Ponder and hopes he can be like a Chad Pennington. I think that’s the best-case scenario.”
Rob Rang, senior draft analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, echoed some of Kiper’s sentiments on Ponder.
“I think with Ponder what you’re looking at a guy who’s going to go in the first two rounds,” Rang said. “With that, there’s obviously expectations that he’s going to be ready to play that much earlier. He doesn’t have a ‘wow’ arm, but he’s got plenty of arm strength to be able to make all of the throws, and I think he demonstrated that at the Senior Bowl.
“He has the accuracy and the intelligence you’re looking for, and certainly the mobility as well. And so in my opinion he is truly one of the better West Coast offense quarterbacks in this draft. There’s quarterbacks out there that are bigger, stronger and all of those things, but for Seattle’s scheme Ponder in my opinion is one of the best fits.”
The key for Ponder will be how he checks out medically. Ponder missed the final three games of his junior season with a grade-3 separation of his throwing shoulder. And he had two surgeries on the elbow of his throwing arm in 2010, forcing him to miss two games his senior year.
Ponder talked about his elbow injury at the combine, and said he’s fully healthy.
“I got hit in the sixth game of the year (against the Hurricanes) and the fascia, which is the connecting tissue between your skin andyour muscle got separated from my muscle and a little pocket formed,” Ponder said. “Every time I landed on it fluid would build up. I’d get it drained once a week and the next game I’d land on it again. Throughout that whole process scar tissue had built up and that was what was impeding it from healing. They went in and cut out all the scar tissue and did some other stuff to heal it. Now it’s fine.”
“I spent like three hours in an MRI machine. It’s not a fun process. The shoulder checked out fine, and the MRIs were all good. I cleared out medically.”