Even though I wasn't leaving the house to see the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft, I dolled up. I wore my John Randle jersey (intended satirically because Randle was a rookie free-agent), artfully coiffed my hair, and made my eyes sparkle with some glittery purple eye shadow. With the way this off-season has been going, thanks to the lockout (at the moment, lifted!) being currently being battled in the courts, it seemed like the draft might be the last good time football fans have for awhile.
Clad in purple and looking fabulous, I parked myself on the couch and prepared to watch all the drama and pomp leading up to the Minnesota Vikings' first round draft pick. And this year's draft did not disappoint.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was booed by the crowd at Radio City Music Hall every time he took the stage, but that didn't prevent early draft picks like Von Miller (Denver Broncos) or Marcell Dareus (Buffalo Bills) from engulfing him in massive bear hugs. There were smiles as one after the next strapping guys donned team hats, shook hands with the Commissioner, and got their picture taken holding their new team jersey.
As expected, Cam Newton was snapped up first overall by the Carolina Panthers, but after that the night got a little more interesting. The Atlanta Falcons sold the farm in a massive trade with the Cleveland Browns so they could select Julio Jones with the 6th overall pick. The Titans surprised everyone taking Jake Locker, the quarterback many considered the likeliest to end up in Minnesota, with the 8th pick of the evening. Then the Jacksonville Jaguars traded with the Washington Redskins so they could nab Blaine Gabbert at pick number #10, taking another quarterback rumored to be a Vikings possibility out of the running. At 11th, the Houston Texans selected J.J. Watts, and suddenly the Vikings were on the clock. All those months of planning and speculation would come down to this.
If the title of this post isn't too much of a spoiler, join me for more after the jump.
Despite all the talk about how the Vikings, with their plethora of needs, wouldn't likely get their top-tier guys at #12, by the time they were on the clock there was still some shockingly good talent available, namely Prince Amukamara. But leave it to the Vikings, who kept us guessing all last season to bypass, not only Amukamara, but also Nick Fairley, Mike Pouncey, Anthony Castonzo, Cameron Jordan, and anyone else that seemed like a likely pick.
Congratulations, with the 12th overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft Christian Ponder, the 6'2" 229 lb. quarterback out of Florida State University, is going to be a Minnesota Viking. Like the crowd at Winter Park, I'm feeling unsure about this.
When Rick Spielman appeared in front of the seriously annoyed Vikings Draft Party crowd at Winter Park some of those vocal, and ever-so-slightly inebriated fans, actually booed Spielman. That's hard to fathom because Spielman seems so likable, but the crowd at Winter Park was not in the mood for likable, they were in the mood for blood. They had just watched the Vikings pass on some incredible talent and they wanted to know why.
Watching the Winter Park Draft Party online at the time the Vikings #12 pick was announced, I saw the amazed crowd split into three camps: some cheered, some booed, and the majority just kind of scratched their heads and gaped at the screen. Apparently, the Vikings choosing Ponder in the first rounds was still puzzling the crowd when Rick Spielman showed up not long after the announcement and he got the brunt of their...well, it wasn't quite "anger", but it missed "support" by a long shot.
When asked to defend choosing Ponder, Spielman raved about the guy's football intelligence, accuracy, and leadership. Not only that, but the buzz about Ponder is that he's one of the most NFL-ready quarterbacks in this draft because he played for Florida State. Most importantly, the Vikings are convinced that Ponder can operate in Musgrave's offense, making all the plays that it will call for. Although Ponder has a history of injuries, the Vikings feel he is healthy (enough) and are really high on this guy. To see both Spielman and Coach Leslie Frazier talk about Ponder, I'd say their feelings border on "man crush."
But there was something that made me a little suspicious of all the praise Spielman was lavishing regarding Christian Ponder's intelligence. As proof that Ponder was such a smart guy, Spielman cited that Ponder had a master's degree in business administration.
Of all the things that Rick Spielman could tell me to prove that Christian Ponder is a bright guy, the fact that he has a master's degree in business administration is probably the most likely to get me to shrug like a French policeman. I'm sorry, it just doesn't impress me.
If you're going to wow me with the Ponder's intelligence tell me he's a rocket scientist or a microbiologist or a linguist specializing in dead languages. Tell me he's up for a research grant in speech therapy, or that he is a forensic psychologist. If you want me to be blown away by Ponder's intelligence tell me just about anything other than that he has an MBA.
See, I know people who have MBAs, I am a person with an MBA. We aren't all that stunningly intelligent. C'mon Spielman, tell me you can do better than that!
However, considering how many players take easy courses of study and then never bother actually graduating from college, I guess Ponder probably stands out like Lady Gaga does pretty much wherever she goes. And, maybe that's okay. Ponder doesn't have to be a savant, he just has to be smart enough to hand the football to Adrian Peterson. Wowing Rick Spielman is a bonus.
Eventually, it will all come down to deeds rather than post-draft sound bites. How will Ponder do during training camp (if we have one) when he's training with Joe Webb? Does he make it to the starting roster? How does Ponder fair if he does start? How do the Vikings fair if Ponder starts?
We'll see how thrilled Spielman, Frazier, the team, and all the fans are with Christian Ponder's football intelligence come next year's draft. Hopefully, in a year it won't be Ponder's academics were talking about, it will be his success. Heaven knows we don't need anymore draft day drama.