Christian Ponder has critics. It started mostly around the loss to Washington, where Ponder made a few mistakes deep in Vikings' territory. Never mind that he threw for 352 yards and a pair of touchdowns, the interceptions were too much to overcome. That, and an inability to tackle Robert Griffin III.
He did nothing to impress in the win over the Cardinals in the Dome. That win was attributed to Adrian Peterson's big game and a stalwart defense which produced seven sacks and stops in the red zone. Ponder threw for less than 100 yards.
Now with his poor statistical performance on Thursday Night, which resulted in a blowout loss at home to the Buccaneers, many fans are calling for Joe Webb.
Ah, the fickle fan.
Lest one forget, Minnesota is 5-3 after half of a season, and Christian Ponder has had a decent season overall to date. Not compared to the elite of the NFL, but certainly in comparison to other Minnesota quarterbacks in our history. Let's compare Ponder to two other successful young Vikings draft choices: Fran Tarkenton and Daunte Culpepper.
Tarkenton was drafted 29th overall, in the 3rd round of the 1961 NFL Draft. He was the third quarterback taken after Norm Snead went 2nd overall, and Billy Kilmer drafted 11th.
Culpepper was drafted 11th overall, in the 1st round of the 1999 NFL Draft. He was the fourth quarterback taken after Tim Couch (1), Donovan McNabb (2), and Alkili Smith (3).
Ponder was drafted 12th overall, in the 1st round of the 2011 NFL Draft. He was the fourth quarterback taken after Cam Newton (1), Jake Locker (8), and Blaine Gabbert (10).
Minnesota was an expansion team in 1961, and Tarkenton started 10 games (of 14) his rookie season and went 2-8-0. In his second year Fran started all 14 games and was 2-11-1. Statistically, Tarkenton had 40 TD passes and 42 interceptions in his first two years. His passer ratings respectively were 74.7 and 66.9. Tarkenton's first winning season would be 1964, his fourth in the NFL.
Daunte Culpepper joined a team that had been one of the best in all of the NFL. He did not start any games his rookie season, but started all sixteen in 2000, going 11-5-0. The next year Daunte started all eleven games and went 4-7-0. His third season of full-time action saw a 6-10-0 finish. Culpepper had 33 TDs and 16 interceptions his rookie season. The next year he had 14 TDs to 13 interceptions, and then 18 TDs with 23 interceptions. Culpepper never had a winning season after his first in the league.
Christian Ponder joined a team that had imploded in the 2010 season. The previous year they had been one of the best in football. Ponder started ten games in his rookie year, and was 2-8-0. This year he is 5-3-0 surprising most everyone who follows football. Ponder threw 13 TDs with 13 interceptions in his first year. This year he has 10 TDs with 7 interceptions. His passer rating year one was 70.1, and this year it is presently 85.8 and falling.
Of course Fran Tarkenton would go on to a Hall of Fame Career. He was traded in 1967 to the Giants, and that trade proved to be the impetus for a dynasty of purple. Tarkenton returned in 1972 and led Minnesota to three of its' four Super Bowl visits in a ten year span.
Daunte Culpepper excited fans much like the scrambling Tarkenton. His 2nd year performance (2000) was incredible, and one of the best years by any Vikings quarterback. But then came the fumbles and the losses. He would be gone by 2006. His career fizzled.
And now Ponder. His overall record is 7-11-0. His poor decisions causing turnovers has created an impatience with the fan base. One could argue that the offensive line's play has also impacted his performance, but so could one argue the same for Daunte and Fran. And like Fran, he was given a team that presently does not stack up against the NFL elite.
So what should we fans do? Cut him some slack, knowing others have struggled as young QBs? Granted this is harder to do when young QBs like RG III, Andrew Luck, and even Russell Wilson are seemingly playing much better.
In fact, there are so many teams with young quarterbacks these days that fans have a right to expect more. Andy Dalton is playing well in Cincinnati, Gabbert looks decent in Jacksonville, Tennessee's Locker was impressive until hurt, and many others. Further, now veteran QBs like Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Matthew Schaub, and Joe Flacco are winning consistently. None of them appear to be going anywhere soon.
Minnesota was 9-23-0 its' last two years. This year was supposed to be a rebuilding one, and after Thursday's poor performance, combined with the knowledge that the schedule will be much harder, most are reconsidering the fast start. Acceptance may overtake optimism, if it has not already done so.
Still others remain hopeful. While the defense has suddenly forgotten how to tackle against the Doug Martins and the Griffins of the NFL, they still are playing with a new found toughness. The offensive line's struggles have made life difficult for Ponder and OC Musgrave's playbook, but they are finding holes for the powerful Adrian Peterson.
And anything can happen in the NFL these days.
Don't quote me, but after examining a strength of schedule (SOS) site, I think I may have uncovered our draft position for the 2011 NFL Draft. Of course, I am a mere amateur and could be off, but it appears that the order is:
7. San Francisco
8. Tennessee (or Seattle, then Tenn. and each team following is one position lower).
Disappointing if true, Minnesota did not do well in the tiebreaker, as their schedule was considered the 9th toughest in the NFL going into Week 17. Only Detroit (6th) had a tougher schedule of the seven 6-10 teams. Ties are broken based on SOS difficulty, or lack thereof. The easier the schedule, the better the draft slot.
Again, this order is based on SOS prior to the completion of this week. Things could change. Seven teams finished 6-10, with Seattle potentially joining the group should they lose. The Vikings' loss today really dropped the Lions far greater than it raised Minnesota.
As a fan of all Minnesota sports I watched for years as the Timberwolves lost and lost only to miss out on franchise players in the draft. The NBA local team would win just enough to miss out on lottery success. While others relished in Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Dwayne Wade, and the like, we found Paul Grant, Ricky Rubio, and Pooh Richardson. We were bad enough to deserve the number one pick, just never lucky in the lottery. Or the draft (except for Kevin Garnett).
Vikings' fans are not used to early draft picks. Since 1967 the Vikings have had five poor seasons (1984, 1990, 2001, 2002, 2006). The worst of those years was 3-13 with Les Steckel in 1984 that forced Bud Grant out of retirement. In 2001 the Vikings went 5-11. Those are the only two years potentially worse than this one in over forty years. In 1985 we used the lack of success to draft Chris Doleman. In 2002 we drafted Bryant McKinnie with the 7th selection.
More recently, after the 6-10 2006 season, we drafted Adrian Peterson from the 7th spot. Kevin Williams was taken with the 9th selection (you remember the non-pick?) in 2003 after a 6-10 season. Evidently, 6-10 is a good thing to be if you want quality players. Minnesota, now 6-9, stands on the cusp of a losing season. Presently there are six teams at 5-10, at it is quite probable that only one will improve to 6-10 (Arizona plays San Fran). That means the Vikings could finish anywhere from sixth to seventeenth in the draft dependent upon this week's games.
I am sure players and coaches could care less about draft position. I feel confident that they want to beat the Lions to finish the season. Detroit has been playing better of late, and the rookie defensive tackle Suh is already a Pro Bowler. This game is more about 'king of the hill' than it is about the draft. Frazier's contract talks have been sparked since the Eagles' win and a 4-2 finish would solidify his standing with management.
But we fans can look to the future. We must. Considering we face losing seasons about once every ten years, what else are we to do?
The Vikings face numerous free agents with the upcoming bargaining agreement changes, including potentially losing Chad Greenway, Ray Edwards, Ben Leber, Sidney Rice, and many more. On the flip side, the possibility of fourth and fifth year players becoming unrestricted free agents means the market is going to be large as well. The names read like a Who's Who in football. Suddenly, players like DeAngelo Williams, Haloti Ngata, Santonio Holmes, Jonathan Joseph, Eric Wright ... become unrestricted free agents.
So we face the Lions with much on the line in terms of the draft. A loss would benefit Minnesota greatly in the 2011 Draft. A win would simply keep the Lions in their place below us.
... Let's win.
We can sure get spoiled fast. For example, my family just purchased our first HD TV, with the HP 1080, and whatever else makes it sound groovy. We had held out, what with the economy and costs of growing children. But shopping in a local Target we found a deal to good to pass up, and even though it was last year's model, made the move to HD. Love it!
Minnesotans just experienced the best season/career by a starting quarterback in their forty-nine years. Brett Favre's 107.2 passer rating in the 2009 season easily bests the second highest Vikings career rating, that of Randall Cunningham's 94.2 (excluding Todd Bouman's 98.6 in his three 2001 starts). For comparison, Fran Tarkenton was a lifetime 80.1, Tommy Kramer 72.9, Warren Moon 82.8, Brad Johnson 82.5, and Daunte Culpepper 91.5. There is no doubt that Favre was the missing piece for a Super Bowl-type team. We now have one.
Favre's recent disclosure of the needed surgery to play in 2010 has cast some doubt on his return. Those that witnessed the brutalization of Favre at the hand of the dirty Saints pass-rushers have to wonder why he would want more of the same? Sure, he is a tough old hombre, but I wouldn't wish that kind of beating on Aaron Rodgers or Jay Cutler (OK, maybe Cutler). With his long list of NFL successes, Favre could retire an NFL Hall-of-Famer and still be able to walk to the podium. Why return?
Meanwhile, the NFL draft came and went, and Minnesota passed on a couple of quarterback prospects that has media and friends concerned about Minnesota's future. Notre Dame grad Jimmy Clausen, the first-round talent who was absent in the "Green Room", was available the first two days of the draft, yet we avoided him. Later, Tony Pike of Cincinnati, sat atop the 'best available' list of draft choices, and once again the Vikings went elsewhere. Critics cried "foul", citing Favre's ego as the reason Minnesota avoided addressing the future at quarterback. Never mind that both of these QBs dropped in value faster than the riders of Valley Fair's Power Tower, the Vikings had blown it due to the coddling of their superstar. Yea, right.
What they all fail to realize is that as good as Favre was, the reason for the Vikings' success is many, not singular. The addition of Percy Harvin; the improvement of Sidney Rice; the drafting of Phil Loadholt; Adrian Peterson; the emergence of Ray Edwards; the Williams' wall. Too many factors to decide that Favre was the only reason. The fact that Minnesota won the division in 2008 with Tarvaris Jackson and Gus Frerotte at the helm should at least suggest the overall talent of the Vikings is presently superior to the Packers, Bears, and obviously the Lions.
I am not afraid of life without Favre. True, like my HD-TV, it is certainly better. I would much prefer it. But these forty plus years have taught me to be patient (a skill all true Vikings' fans have had to own). For every Tarkenton, there will be a Tommy Kramer. For every Cunningham, a Jeff George. For every Culpepper ... you get the picture. The best playoff record of any Vikings' QB is only 6-5 (Tarkenton). Brett Favre's is presently 1-1, which is no better than Joe Kapp (2-2).
I love my new HD, it is better than before. But it is only TV after all, it cannot do the dishes. LAF will be tough, we will have to find a replacement or probably return to T-Jack. Or find someone at least as good as Todd Bouman. I hear the 2011 draft might have the answer.
What are they smoking down there near Lake Michigan? Trading away picks for quarterbacks who like to throw interceptions; drafting more quarterbacks; limiting growth to five overall picks. Times are tough in Illinois.
By the time they draft their first selection, most fans had tuned out of the NFL Draft. Pick 75 was a free safety, Major Wright, from Florida. The Bears best pick may have been at 141, where they added Joshua Moore, a cornerback from Kansas State. Then, with pick 181, they added another QB despite glaring needs all over the place. Dan LeFevour was one of the many QBs to drop off the charts, expected to go about three rounds earlier. The Central Michigan thrower is respected, but c'mon, he is a MAC quarterback.
Grade: Incomplete (I cannot fail students who try .. I think they tried).
I almost thought they would go a whole draft without taking a wide receiver, but with pick 255 they chose Tim Toone from Weber State. Watch him be better than all their first round picks of years' past.
The Lions had six picks, having traded up to get Jahvid Best with the 30th pick (with the Vikings). Of course, Ndamukong Suh, 2nd overall, is the focus of the draft, and he should be very good. But Best is small, and has a history of concussions already. The much needed corner was drafted at 66th, a slow one from Iowa, Amari Spievey. OT Jason Fox taken at 128th, fits a need. Detroit had two of the three first round picks for the North. They should improve the most, but, that is a misnomer.
Grade: B. Feels like an A compared to last 10-15 years with Matt Millen and friends.
Green Bay Packers.
After witnessing the Vikes batter Aaron Rodgers senseless for a couple of seasons, and Chad Clifton hobbling around like a one-legged sloth, we knew linemen would be chosen. But how many?
The Packers are close to the Vikings, and definitely a choice for wild-card early predictions, if not ready to usurp Minnesota. Green Bay had three selections at 23rd, 56th, and 71st. They added Bryan Bulaga, an OT from Iowa; Mike Neal, a DT from Purdue; and Morgan Bennett, a free safety from Georgia Tech. Of the three, Neal was the biggest stretch,as many 'experts' felt there were better DTs on the board. And back-to-back Big Ten athletes? Don't they watch the Bowl games? As expected, the Pack added a 2nd OL with the 169th pick in Marshall Newhouse, a OT or OG, from TCU. He could be a nice find. Late, Green Bay found James Starks, a 6'2, 220 RB from Buffalo, with the 193rd pick. He may make the squad as GB running backs are not that good.
Grade: B-. I expected more from a smart organization, I hold them to a higher standard than Detroit or Chicago, whom both are horrid at this draft thing.
It was the draft to protect Brett Favre's return. Minnesota got him some protection in Toby Gerhart and Chris DeGeare. And we addressed some of the defensive concerns, but not all. Lifers were wondering why no Jimmy Clausen or late Tony Pike selections?
I love the efforts Favre gave us last year, and think he will return. With Chester Taylor gone, Minnesota had to find a replacement, and Gerhart from Stanford comes with high hopes. Experts wondered if Ben Tate of Auburn would not have been a wiser choice, but Gerhart could be a great extra blocker in passing situations, at least as good as AP; hopefully as good as Taylor. CB Chris Cook of Virgina, 34th pick, helps a sore spot as the team wonders what Cedric Griffin can bring after the late injury of 2009-10. Lito Sheppard, a Childress reunion player, will help. Experts love the choice of Everson Griffen, DE of USC, with the 100th pick. A potential steal as he dropped from early round possibilities. Pick 167 was local phenomenon Nate Triplett who played as Delano. He is a beast who could rival Farwell on special teams. Pick 199 is Joe Webb, a running quarterback from Alabama-Birmingham, who may move to WR or that funky Wild-Cat spot.
Grade: B+. I wanted Vikes to address OG earlier, and QB later. But there is a reason I am not in the draft room. Assuming my home team knows more than I do, I give them the best grade. Because I can.
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