On Ponder's Ceiling, Or Why Webb Pushers Are Illogical: A Statistical Journey

I apologize for the wordiness. I'm a statistical analyst in my career...sometimes it's hard to hold back. I love this stuff.

While most people (including all of our writers) are resigned to ride out the Ponder train to see where it leads, there are a few dissenting voices that believe that Ponder will never be the quarterback of the future, and Joe Webb should be given a fair crack at the job to see what skills he can develop. UnBannedVikingholic is one of the leading voices of this movement, so I will address this post to you, UBV, but I am not intending to single you out.

Your main argument against Ponder is that he was scouted as a future good, not great, quarterback, and you said you are concerned about his ceiling. In an attempt to get a clearer idea oh how hampered his ceiling might be, I took a look at how the elite quarterbacks in today's NFL fared early in their careers. My list of elite quarterbacks (hopefully most agree with this) is: Brady, Brees, the Brothers Manning, Rodgers, and Matt Ryan (debatable, but he is having an elite season, and in either case I think we can agree that we would be glad if Ponder developed to his level of play). I excluded Rodgers from my analysis because he sat on the bench for his first 3 years, and his experience does not really shed any light on how Ponder might develop. I also threw Brett Favre in there, as he was an elite quarterback who recently retired.

First let's look at Ponder's career stats for comparison purposes:

Christian Ponder

20 starts

Completion Percentage: 60.0%

Touchdowns: 25

Interceptions: 21

Yards per Attempt: 6.4

Yards Per Completion: 10.7

We all know that Ponder had a downright putrid 3 game stretch this season that had many people doubting his development, and the calls for Webb gained steam. Was this bad stretch of games a red flag that Ponder would not develop as hoped, and any hopes of him becoming an elite quarterback were gone? To help answer this, I looked at the elite quarterbacks to see if they had a similar bad stretch of games in their 2nd year.

Drew Brees

Career starts 22-24:

Game 1: 9-18, 74 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT

Game 2: 19-30, 190 yards, 0 TD, 3 INT

Game 3: 7-15, 49 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT


Career Stats Through Start 24:

Completion Percentage: 59.7%

Touchdowns: 24

Interceptions: 28

Yards per Attempt: 6.1

Yards Per Completion: 10.2

Brees was drafted with the 1st pick in the 2nd round. Coming out of college, here are some things said about Brees:

Tends to side-arm his passes going deep...Lacks accuracy and touch on his long throws...Seems more comfortable in the short/intermediate passing attack. I am not convinced that he will come anywhere close to matching his lofty collegiate figures at the pro level.

Sounds like coming out of college, he might have been considered to be the dreaded "dink and dunk" type of quarterback. That was a very rough 3 game stretch he had in starts 22-24. Do you think UBV would have been concerned about his ceiling? I could easily imagine him calling for a 41 year old Doug Flutie to take over as starter, because Brees had shown less than Ponder at this point in his career.

Achievements since: 1 super bowl, 6 pro bowls

Peyton Manning

Career starts 27-29

Game 1: 23-31, 198 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT

Game 2: 23-29, 260 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT

Game 3: 15-27, 186 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT


Career Stats Through Start 29:

Completion Percentage: 59.0%

Touchdowns: 50

Interceptions: 42

Yards per Attempt: 7.1

Yards Per Completion: 12.1

Peyton was drafted #1 overall in 1998, and did not have anywhere near the question marks that Drew Brees or Christian Ponder had coming out of college. In fact, he was widely considered the most pro-ready quarterback in a long time. While he did put together a 3 game stretch of less than fantastic stats in his 2nd year, it was still not horrible, and a sign that scouts were right about his very unique pro-readiness.

Achievements since: 1 super bowl, 11 pro bowls

Eli Manning

Career starts 20-22

Game 1: 12-31, 152 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT

Game 2: 28-44, 312 yards, 1 TD, 3 INT

Game 3: 17-32, 185 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT


Career Stats Through Start 22:

Completion Percentage: 51.4%

Touchdowns: 28

Interceptions: 25

Yards per Attempt: 6.3

Yards Per Completion: 12.3

Eli, like his brother, was drafted #1 overall, although he was not regarded as having near the pro-readiness that Peyton had, and his early career stats bore that out. Living in New York City (hence the username, sorry Twins fans!), I can tell you that despite being drafted first overall, his struggles in his first few years led many to believe there was no way Eli would develop into the elite quarterback that had been hoped. Would UBV have been one of the fans calling for his benching, perhaps in favor of Jared Lorenzen, an unknown quantity on the bench who was signed as an undrafted free agent, and was a two-time semi-finalist for the Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award at Kentucky?

Achievements since: 2 super bowls, 2 pro bowls

Tom Brady

Career starts 32-34

Game 1: 15-27, 183 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT

Game 2: 14-29, 134 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT

Game 3: 19-37, 133 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT


Career Stats Through Start 34:

Completion Percentage: 63.1%

Touchdowns: 45

Interceptions: 25

Yards per Attempt: 6.6

Yards Per Completion: 10.4

I don't need to tell you that Brady was drafted in the 6th round in 2000. Coming out of college, he was widely considered to be a game manager, someone who is smart and will limit turnovers, but also lacks a strong arm. He sat on the bench his entire first year, and hit the ground running after that, winning the super bowl in his 1st year as starter. But despite his early achievements, he still struggled for a 3 game stretch in his 2nd season as starter, completing fewer than 52% of his passes and throwing for under 200 yards in all 3 games.

Achievements since: 2 super bowls, 6 pro bowls

Matt Ryan

Career starts 22-24

Game 1: 19-33, 185 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT

Game 2: 19-35, 198 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT

Game 3: 19-42, 289 yards, 1 TD, 3 INT


Career Stats Through Start 24:

Completion Percentage: 60.6%

Touchdowns: 28

Interceptions: 20

Yards per Attempt: 7.6

Yards Per Completion: 12.6

Drafted 3rd overall in 2008, he had a banner rookie season that was one of the better rookie seasons of all time. But he regressed in his 2nd season, including the 3 game stretch above that saw him complete less than 52% of his passes, average 6.1 yards per attempt, and throw 7 picks in 3 games. As has been seen in every case so far, he had marked setbacks in his development, which could not be considered linear by any stretch of the imagination. Now in his 5th year, this is the first time he has put up elite stats.

Brett Favre

Career starts 20-22

Game 1: 20-31, 150 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT

Game 2: 21-37, 174 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT

Game 3: 20-32, 235 yards, 1 TD, 3 INT


Career Stats Through Start 22:

Completion Percentage: 62.7%

Touchdowns: 23

Interceptions: 23

Yards per Attempt: 6.6

Yards Per Completion: 10.6

Favre was drafted in the 2nd round of the 1991 draft by the Atlanta Falcons. The head coach of the Falcons, Jerry Glanville, did not agree with the draft pick, and he refused to start Favre in any games during his rookie year, and was then promptly traded to Green Bay in the offseason. Before the trade was finalized, Packer team doctors found a degenerative disorder in Favre's hip, and they all told Packer general manager Ron Wolf to nix the trade, but he went through with it anyway. Needless to say, there were a lot of question marks surrounding Favre's future, and his career stats through 22 games were very similar to Ponder's career stats. Perhaps if UBV had been a Packer fan in 1993 (blasphemous I know! Just a thought experiment), he would have called for Favre's benching after he started the year with 5 TD's and 8 picks in 5 games, averaging 187 yards per game and 10.2 yards per completion (less than Ponder's career average, Favre must have been a dink and dunker!). Maybe UBV would have preferred to go with Mark Brunell, a quarterback drafted in the 5th round that year, who helped lead Washington to 3 Rose Bowl victories and a national championship, and who was one of the premiere quarterbacks in the nation as a run-ass dual threat, but suffered a severe knee injury in his junior year, which torpedoed his draft stock. Having him on the bench must have been an intriguing option, considering Favre's own question marks and his less thanstellar play up to that point.


In summation, here is where Ponder ranks in each career stat category, through each quarterback's endpoint that I analyzed:

Completion Percentage

1. Tom Brady 63.1

2. Brett Favre 62.7

3. Matt Ryan 60.6

4. Christian Ponder 60.0

5. Drew Brees 59.7

6. Peyton Manning 59.0

7. Eli Manning 51.4


TD-INT Ratio

1. Tom Brady 45-25

2. Matt Ryan 28-20

3t.Christian Ponder 25-21

3t. Peyton Manning 50-42

5. Eli Manning 28-25

6. Brett Favre 23-23

7. Drew Brees 24-28


Yards Per Attempt

1. Matt Ryan 7.6

2. Peyton Manning 7.1

3. Brett Favre 6.6

4. Tom Brady 6.6

5. Christian Ponder 6.4

6. Eli Manning 6.3

7. Drew Brees 6.1


Yards Per Completion

1. Matt Ryan 12.6

2. Eli Manning 12.3

3. Peyton Manning 12.1

4. Christian Ponder 10.7

5. Brett Favre 10.6

6. Tom Brady 10.4

7. Drew Brees 10.2

So it looks like Ponder is middle of pack in every stat. His Yards Per Attempt/Yards Per Completion numbers don't really make him out to be as big a dink and dunker as UBV seems to think. And also allow me to point out that Ponder's deep threats so far in his career have been: Bernard Berrian, Michael Jenkins (first 3 games of this year, a guy nicknamed Molasses Mike), and an injured and ineffective Jerome Simpson. Do you really think Joe Webb would be less of a "dink and dunker" than Ponder has been?

Now, I fully admit that Ponder's play to this point does not have him destined to develop into an elite quarterback. We all know that there have been a ton of quarterbacks that have put up similar numbers in the first 2 seasons to the numbers above, and they did not develop into elite quarterbacks, or even consistent starters/ But the point is we do not have enough information on Ponder yet to know if he will develop as hoped, and there simply is nothing about his performance to date that excludes him from being able to. Your feeling that his ceiling "concerns" you has hopefully been calmed after looking at the comparisons above. He is not far behind any of the elite quarterbacks at this stage of their careers, not enough to definitively pull the plug on him. He may develop, he may not, but we invested a high first round draft pick in the kid, and unfair or not, the only thing to do now is to find out what he develops into.

The other part of your argument was that pre-draft scouting reports had labeled Ponder as a good, not great future quarterback. Putting aside the obvious rebuttal that similar things were said about Brees, Brady, and Favre, let's take a look at what was being said about Joe Webb:

Decision-making must improve. Forces the ball into dangerous spots. Does not scan the field or move through his progressions. Likely to struggle consistently making reads against NFL schemes. Must improve footwork and drop mechanics. Does not exhibit enough accuracy and can become wild. Does not have a quick release and throwing mechanics need polish.

Athletic quarterback who will shift to a wide receiver/wildcat role in the NFL.

Knows his future is at wide receiver and not quarterback. Worked as a wideout at both the Senior Bowl and Pro Day.

Does not have the skillset to play QB in the NFL.

Yeesh…between those scouting reports and Ponder's…I'll take my chances with the "good, not great" quarterback and see how it turns out.

There are 2 reasons that I can think of that you would want Joe Webb to start.

1. Webb is a better quarterback right now. I don't believe this is true, but I'll grant it to you. Even if he is a better right now, benching Ponder would do untold damage to his development, someone we invested a high 1st round pick in only 1 year ago.

2. Webb has a better chance of developing into a franchise quarterback than Ponder. If you believe this, then you need a dose of reality. The grass is always greener on the other side…that's the only reason I could think of for anyone to believe this. Just look at the above scouting reports.

Whether you think it was unfair or not to not give Webb a crack at the starting gig after Ponder was drafted, what happened happened and that ship has sailed. Decisions were made, right or wrong, and switching between two quarterbacks as both are trying to develop would do no one favors and set the Vikings back untold amounts.

This FanPost was created by a registered user of The Daily Norseman, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the staff of the site. However, since this is a community, that view is no less important.

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