Vikings pick: Prize or surprise?

  • Article by: JUDD ZULGAD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 30, 2011 - 6:44 AM

Florida State QB Christian Ponder might have been a reach for the Vikings at No. 12, but team officials defended the choice.

Rick Spielman called the Vikings' decision to take Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder with the 12th selection in the first round of Thursday's NFL draft "a no-brainer."

The fans at the team's draft party in the Winter Park fieldhouse who chanted for the Vikings to take Nebraska cornerback Prince Amakumara, and then voiced their displeasure with Spielman as he took the stage after the Ponder selection, didn't seem to agree.

Those people, however, shouldn't have been surprised Ponder became only the third quarterback to be taken in the first round in the franchise's 51-year history, joining Tommy Kramer (1977) and Daunte Culpepper (1999).

"Quarterback was a huge need for us, everybody knows that," said Spielman, the Vikings vice president of player personnel.

The organization is banking on Ponder being the long-term solution for a position at which it has used a revolving door of veterans in recent years. Ponder had a 22-13 record as a starter in four seasons at Florida State and is known for his intelligence -- he earned his undergraduate degree in 2.5 years and obtained his master's degree before his senior season -- but also for being somewhat injury prone.

Ponder said the expectations he will face won't impact him.

"I've dealt with being the face of Florida State and handling the pressure there," he said. "Obviously, it's a whole 'nother level in the NFL, but I don't think anyone puts as much pressure on me as I will myself. No one's expectations exceed mine."

While the Vikings could attempt to sign a veteran free agent to play in front of Ponder for a season, there is also is the chance he will step in as the team's starter. Coach Leslie Frazier said Ponder will be competing with Joe Webb and Rhett Bomar for the job, but that's a bit hard to believe.

"I want it to still be an open competition with the guys that are on our roster," Frazier said. "It will be those three. What happens with free agency? Who knows? We'll eventually get to that point. But right now it's a competition between those three and we'll line up with the best guy when we get ready to line up against the Chargers [on Sept. 11 in the regular-season opener]."

The Vikings did little to hide the fact that they spent countless hours in their pre-draft preparations vetting just about every quarterback in this draft. Frazier made it clear from the outset that his ideal scenario would be to draft a quarterback and develop that player.

Spielman defended selecting Ponder at 12, saying it wasn't a reach to take a quarterback who spent five seasons at Florida State (he redshirted in 2006) and started the final three.

"Not on our board," Spielman said. "We felt very confident where we graded him."

The Vikings might have been pleased with getting Ponder, but they nearly had a shot at the guy rated by some analysts as the top quarterback in the draft. Missouri's Blaine Gabbert fell all the way to 10 before Jacksonville sent its first- and second-round picks to Washington to move up six spots.

Spielman acknowledged there was talk of trying to made a trade with Dallas to move up to the ninth pick and get Gabbert.

"I know Jacksonville ended up giving a one and a second-round pick for Blaine," Spielman said. "We weren't going to be able to do that."

That is in large part because the Vikings don't have a third-round pick, having traded it to New England last year in the deal for Randy Moss.

The Vikings only have one pick (43rd overall) in Friday night's second and third rounds.

Ponder was the fourth quarterback to be taken, following Cam Newton (No. 1 to Carolina), Jake Locker (No. 8 to Tennessee) and Gabbert.

Ponder, who will be introduced this afternoon at a news conference at Winter Park, spoke to the Twin Cities media Thursday on a conference call. He had been invited to the draft in New York but did not attend because he wasn't sure he would be selected in the opening round.

"I heard [I could go] basically from the No. 8 pick to the middle of the second," Ponder said. "I really had no idea. I'm just happy it worked out this way."

Ponder impressed Spielman, Frazier, new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and quarterbacks coach Craig Johnson when they spent a day and a half with him last month at a private workout in Tallahassee, Fla.

Spielman also said team doctors put to rest any fears about Ponder's injuries, which included a third-degree separation of his throwing (right) shoulder in 2009 that required season-ending surgery.

Last season, he threw for 2,044 yards with 20 touchdowns and eight interceptions despite having issues with a bruised triceps and then suffering a ruptured bursa sac and concussion. The bursa sac required repeated draining and eventually surgery.

He said much of his pre-draft workouts focused on showing teams that his arm is fine.

"My health was what guys were worried about," Ponder said. "I think I was mislabeled as injury prone. ... Once the season was done, going into the Senior Bowl and the combine and the private workouts and Pro Day, I knew I had to show that I was healthy and my arm was back and I was fine."

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