Christian Ponder (Brace Hemmelgarn/US Presswire)
The Vikings have essentially pinned their hopes on Christian Ponder in the coming years, but they aren’t alone. Almost half of the league has drafted a “QB of the present” in the last four years with intentions of early success.
There is no question that much of the Vikings’ success (or lack of it) in the coming years will be the shoulders of Christian Ponder. For those with good recall skills, they will remember that many questioned the Ponder selection at No. 12 overall in the 2011 draft. It was thought to be a knee-jerk reaction to the need at quarterback and Ponder was taken markedly higher than many scouts thought he should go. Why? You can blame 2008.
In the 2008 draft, the Falcons drafted Matt Ryan with the third overall pick and the Ravens jumped up 15 picks later and took Joe Flacco. Both defied the conventional wisdom and led their teams to quick success. In Atlanta, the Falcons had struggled at QB since Michael Vick became known more for his treatment of dogs than his treatment of defenses, while Flacco was the answer to a revolving door at QB in Baltimore. What those two set in motion has been the making of NFL history.
The 2009 draft reflected the reaction to the immediate success of Ryan and Flacco. With the first pick, the winless Detroit Lions drafted Matthew Stafford and the Jets traded up to get Mark Sanchez with the No. 5 overall selection. Both have led their respective teams to the playoffs. Hoping to catch that same lightning in a bottle, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers surprised some by taking QB Josh Freeman with the 17th pick and it didn’t take long for him to become the offensive face of the franchise. It would appear the run was on and teams without young quarterbacks were scrambling to “get theirs” when the opportunity arose.
In 2010, the Rams made Sam Bradford the No. 1 overall pick and, 24 picks later, the Denver Broncos made one of the most controversial picks of the draft by taking some guy named Tim Tebow at No. 25. The precedent was set that, if you liked a quarterback, you could reach for him and be successful.
In 2011, the Vikings weren’t the only team trying to answer questions at QB and were willing to take one above market value. Cam Newton wasn’t a surprise as the No. 1 pick. What may have been the only surprise about Newton was how quickly he became a force at the NFL level. But Newton was just the tip of the QB iceberg in the 2011 draft. The Titans stunned the NFL world by jumping on Jake Locker with the eighth pick, followed quickly by Blaine Gabbert to Jacksonville at No. 10 and Ponder at No. 12. What turned out to be the early surprise success was Andy Dalton, who went to the Bengals with the 35th pick and helped lead Cincinnati to the playoffs.
That ripple effect carried over into last month’s draft. Andrew Luck was so coveted by the Indianapolis Colts that they cut Hall of Famer Peyton Manning to eliminate competition for the starting job. The Redskins followed up that pick by giving up a king’s ransom to land Robert Griffin III with the second selection in the draft. While many viewed Ryan Tannehill as a mid-to-late first-round prospect, he ended up going No. 8 overall to Miami. But the QB feeding frenzy was far from over.
The Cleveland Browns, who had pedestrian QB Colt McCoy as their QB of the present (if not the future), jumped on Brandon Weeden with the 22nd pick of the draft – several picks higher than just about anyone had him rated. Even the Broncos, who drafted Tebow only to trade him when Manning became available, got into the act by taking Brock Osweiler in the second round of the draft.
While there is a lot of pressure on Ponder to be the new face of the franchise, the Vikings are far from alone with respect to placing the future of the organization in the hands of a young QB and, to a large part, the success of Ryan and Flacco are to blame.
Since Ryan and Flacco burst onto the scene, in the four drafts that have taken place since, a whopping 15 teams – almost half the league – have drafted quarterbacks with the intent of them being the long-term starters for their franchises. In a game of replication, it would seem we’ve almost maxed out on the limits that quarterbacks can get taken so high by so many.
History will tell us that two-thirds of the QBs taken in the last four drafts will be relative failures. A handful will be stars, but the other 10 will likely be pedestrian game managers at best. The Vikings are convinced that Ponder will be one of the exceptions to the rule, but the other 14 teams that have drafted a QB in that four-draft span are thinking similarly about their investments. Reality says it won’t happen, but there is a lot of pressure leaguewide for these young QBs to succeed.
Blame Ryan and Flacco, because, in many ways, their success is the reason why so many teams have taken the QB plunge and will enter the 2012 season with high hopes for young quarterbacks.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.