Is Christian Ponder doomed because of his arm?

All right, this is the first writeup in a series I’ll be doing looking at NFL players on tape and evaluating the questions around their performance and potential. We’re starting with Minnesota QB Christian Ponder and the simple question: Does he have the arm strength to be able to compete in the NFL? Let’s just dive right into this:

First, I’ll post up his numbers. (On a side note, I do not care about bulk stats and neither should you. There are a number of proprietary advanced stats to be found at places like Pro Football Focus and Football Outsiders, but I prefer using stats that come directly from performance and where I know how they were derived.) These are taken from pro-football-reference.com:

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Things that are alarming: his ANY/A is brutal, no doubt. And his sack percentage has not been good. But his completion percentage in his sophomore year, along with his interception percentage, show some promise. The biggest concern people have about Ponder is his “Captain Checkdown” tendencies, which some think reveal a lack of arm strength. I’m not going to sit here and preach that Ponder is Jay Cutler, but I don’t believe arm strength is his issue; he sustained an injury his senior year of college and that may have affected his downfield ability then and potentially during his rookie season.

Watching tape I don’t see much wrong. Instead of going through each pass, I cherry-picked examples I thought would be appropriate.  So, of course, there are sample size issues with that. Having said that, here are the 3 plays I looked at.

Here is the first: (note: Text is after the picture about the play. I know that can be confusing sometimes and I just want to make it clear.)

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Presnap read: Single high, man to man, deep middle help, Percy lined up outside, whatever play is called gets nixed for instant Fade. The fact that Percy is off the ball and yet the CB is still playing up near the ball adds to this. Typical cover 1. Ponder intelligently checks out of his in huddle play and calls for the Percy Special.

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This is a snap and throw, good read, Percy is already up on his guy, the CB’s technique is awful and we look to have a nice play here.

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Percy catches the back shoulder pass and is off. It’s perfectly placed, with nice touch, and towards the sidelines. It’s the type of pass you want to see young QBs make, and it’s an even better read and decision pre snap. All good things. Ponder has the all important knowledge that analysts like Jaws and Gruden like to point out.

Here is play #2 vs Detroit:

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Presnap read: Cover 2, standard look. Nothing to out of the ordinary here. Looks like off man 2 deep rather than the Tampa 2 look. Defense is pushed towards trips; you have your 3 slot off and your 2 slot on the ball on both sides. The offense’s empty look is nice vs. this man under.

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Ponder has to move around. Dude has some athleticism in him. Gets to the middle of the field, recognized that cover 2 look pre snap, knows where the safety is, and sees his WR streaking on his seam route.

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A bullet to the 6 yard line. And he nicely, before the throw, sets his feet to get that accurate pass rather than try it on the run and overthrow or underthrow.

(Side note: my favorite part of the play is this, its at the same moment as the catch:

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moving on:)

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This is a nice look at the presence he had in the pocket.

Overall, another very good play, and the “arm strength” issue may not be as much as we are told.

Play #3 is in the last game of the regular season vs. Green Bay:

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This is a confusing look. Is it cover 0? Is it cover 1? That player is bailing on the bottom of the screen. Clearly a stacked box vs. Adrian Peterson; this is late in the 4th quarter of a close game. We have TE right, a FB King’d wing left flanker left.

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We all know the game that ADP had in that week 17. Here is a play action pass. Cornerback and safety are both looking in the backfield: that’s sin #1 of cover 0 man to man. Allow me to rant like I was their DB coach: DON’T LOOK IN THE ****ING BACKFIELD! YOU ARE IN COVER 0 MAN TO MAN, WHO CARES WHATS GOING ON BACK THERE? PLAY THE TECHNIQUE AND THE WR WILL TELL YOU IF THE BALL IS COMING YOUR WAY. (Unless he is Jerry Rice, then you should likely just quit football or hope you never play against him again). OK… end of rant.

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(the WR is on the right hand side of the pic)

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I can’t really get you guys a good look as the camera doesn’t quite catch the full route, but Wright runs a Post-Corner double move and the CB bites on the post and Wright just does the double move to the corner (skinny) and Ponder hits him in stride. It’s great that they are in cover 0 because of ADP, and Ponder reaps that benefit. But he still has to hit that pass. Trust me, as a Jaguar fan I’ve seen more stacked boxes than I want to remember, and I don’t know if it was ever taken advantage of there.

The fact that Ponder has shown he can hit these routes may help his development and his future. Adding Greg Jennings will help too. And if you do think those passes are “gimmes” vs. a cover 0, all you have to do is watch the playoff rematch– Joe Webb can not even begin to threaten the deep part of the field.

Overall, I like a lot of what I see out of Ponder. He isn’t Gabbert, Joey Harrington, or David Carr. Yes, he has flaws; checking down isn’t great. But I like that rather that than taking sacks and throwing picks early in his career, Ponder is showing potential, and if the biggest knock on him is arm strength…well, he is throwing passes deep and with zip. Of those three, only one was a lob– the one that should be, an at-the-line Fade route to Percy. Anything but a lob in that spot would be bad. Ponder reads defenses well, reacts well, and knows how to attack weaknesses.

I do truly believe that his senior year of college is what had so many people down on him. There were a number of factors in his declined performance. Bobby Bowden leaving, Jimbo Fisher going from his position coach to head coach, an arm injury. These things may not seem like a lot, but let me tell you how important position coaches are… Well, I don’t know how to put it into words, but I still have a relationship with mine from high school, college, and graduate school. They are your go-to guys– the guys you have personal relationships with– not the head guy. Losing that your senior year may affect a player. I think Ponder is on the right path.

Does that guarantee that he is a franchise QB? Not at all. But there is no doubt potential with Ponder, and he is not something Vikings fans need to immediately be worried about, as though they were in a situation like Cleveland, Oakland, or Jacksonville.

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Those are Eli Manning’s first 750+ attempts.

OK Vikes fans, you can hate me now. As I’ve given him “my approval” he is guaranteed to flame out horrendously next year. :thumb:

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2 thoughts on “Is Christian Ponder doomed because of his arm?

  1. Pingback: NFC Preview: Short Writeups | Zone Reads

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