There is one name the Vikings should repeat like a dirge Thursday, one name that could prevent them from making the kind of mistake that dooms NFL teams.
That name is not Jonah Williams, the outstanding tackle from Alabama, or Noah Fant, the speedy tight end from Iowa.
That name is Christian Ponder.
The lessons stemming from the Vikings’ selection of Ponder with the 12th pick in the 2011 draft should always echo in the halls of the front office.
If you’ve blocked this sequence of events from your memory, here is the painful nostalgia:
The Vikings were trying to recover from their post-Favre hangover. They had built a team good enough to win it all in 2009. After all those very bad things happened in New Orleans, they unsuccessfully tried to replicate their success in 2010. By the spring of 2011, Leslie Frazier had replaced Brad Childress and the team lacked a quarterback.
Coming off a 6-10 season, the Vikings nevertheless featured an intriguing amount of talent. Spielman and Frazier believed that finding the right quarterback would make the Vikings competitive immediately, perhaps for a decade. That thought was not incorrect.
Obsessed by their pursuit of the right quarterback, they heavily scouted Ponder, the Florida State senior. Ponder was efficient on third down, intelligent, athletic and likable.
The Vikings’ need for a quarterback prompted them to overemphasize Ponder’s many positive traits and undervalue his faults — a willingness to tuck the ball and run at the first sign of trouble, and a lack of the kind of fiery internal desire that causes great quarterbacks to spend countless hours studying film.
Ponder debuted in 2011. In 2012, he played well in a limited role, helping the Vikings to the playoffs as Adrian Peterson had the best season in what should be a Hall of Fame career.
By the end of the first game of 2013, an ugly loss at Detroit, it was obvious Ponder was not an NFL starter. He could not make the decisions required of a franchise quarterback.
Ponder was worth a draft pick, just not a first-rounder, and certainly not a pick in the top half of the first round. If the Vikings hadn’t taken Ponder, they could have traded down and collected more draft picks, or they could have chosen from a trio of talented defensive ends: Cam Jordan, Robert Quinn or Ryan Kerrigan.
Choosing Ponder cost them more than the 12th pick. Because they were looking to replace him two years later, drafting Ponder cost them the embarrassment of playing Josh Freeman, the second- and fourth-round draft picks in 2014 they used to move up to take Teddy Bridgewater, the first- and fourth-round picks they traded to Philadelphia for Sam Bradford, and perhaps the $84 million in guaranteed money they paid Kirk Cousins.
Because the Vikings swung and missed at an important position of great need in 2011, they have spent the rest of the decade chasing replacements. They are like the blackjack player in Vegas trying to make up for losing a quick $100 by buying $1,000 more in chips.
This is the danger of the Vikings entering the NFL draft thinking they have to take an offensive lineman with the first pick. The offensive lineman available to them at that pick might not fix their problem, and taking that offensive lineman might keep them from drafting a great player. Remember, Randy Moss was the 21st pick in the 1998 draft.
The Vikings have three options at No. 18:
1. Take the best offensive lineman available.
2. Trade down, collect an extra pick or two and draft a couple of offensive linemen.
3. Take the best player available regardless of need.
Bad general managers often choose option No. 1. Persistent winners usually choose No. 3. If Williams or someone like him isn’t available with the 18th pick, the Vikings would be wise to remember Ponder and choose option No. 2.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at TalkNorth.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org