Hey guys, this being my first post, bear with me here. I know Arif expertly laid out a piece on BR last year detailing Ponders chances as being a legit QB, so I'm not going to re-hash the historical work he did (which is supremely excellent by the way, if you have time I highly suggest reading it if you haven't already). Instead, I'm going to focus more on his short two year career in context to what has been happening around him in the NFL: namely that we've seen some rookie and 2nd year QBs come in and play very well these past two years, while outplaying our own #7. Without further ado, away we go.
First, Some Background Stuff
This post is heavily predicated on using the statistic Adjusted yards per Attempt. It was developed to evaluate QBs beyond their box score numbers. It takes into account how efficient they were throwing the ball, as well as incorporating their TDs and INTs. The formula is as follows: AYA = (Yards + TD*20 - INT*45)/ATTS. It correlates pretty strongly to winning percentage, and is the main statistic I will be using in this post.
Ponder's Rookie Year
Ponder had a very up and down rookie year, that much is evident. He definitely started off with a bang, with his first pass nearly going for a TD. Needless to say, it caught all of us, including the Packers secondary off guard. He finished the game with less than 50% passes completed, but it didn't seem to matter. Amid the dumpster fire that was 2011, we fans finally had something to look forward to: a legit QBOTF. He followed up the Packer game with completing more than 60% of his passes against Carolina as the Vikings defeated the Panthers. We went into the bye week with some optimism. Unfortunately, it all started to fall apart after that. Injuries and poor play marred the rest of the season. I won't get to into that, as it has been the subject of countless debates and discussions here. Instead, lets take a closer look at some of his early success, and examine in a different light what exactly happened over the final games of the season.
Week 7: Packers @ Vikings
While most Vikings fans were brimming with optimism, the picture painted by some ancillary stats proved worrisome. Lets start with the basics: He only completed 40% of his passes. Definitely not a good start, but as a rookie with no off-season, first game starting, it can be excused. Digging deeper though, his Yards per Attempt came out to 6.8. In 2011, Aaron Rodgers (gag me) led the NFL with 9.2 Y/A, while Blaine Gabbert rounded out the bottom with a sterling 5.3 Y/A. So Ponder fell into the middle of the pack, but closer to the bottom than top. Again, first game, rookie, etc. Looking at his A.Y.A. however, makes me wonder why many (myself included) were so high on him after that one game. His A.Y.A. that game was a shockingly low 5.28, which is nothing short of awful. Unfortunately, while it did improve, his A.Y.A. was below average at seasons end.
Week 8: Vikings @ Panthers
This was the game that for me, really started to sell me on Ponder's future. The knock he had from last week was that he needed to be more efficient. Well, he definitely did that, completing 18/28 passes for 236 yards, 1 TD and 0 picks. He completed 64% of his passes, had a sterling 8.4 Y/A, and a great A.Y.A. of 9.14. All of those numbers are good, and exactly what we should be looking for from Ponder. There isn't much more to say about this game, Ponder was sharp and efficient throwing the football, and it showed. It should be noted, that even with these good statistics, PFF still rated his passing performance of that game as below average. In fact, even though he was very efficient in that game, PFF has it rated as his second worst performance of the year. I'm not sure exactly what the process is in terms of how exactly they grade a play, but from my experience using their site, if they have a negative grade on a game, it was earned.
Week 10: Vikings @ Packers
This is when the wheels start to fall off, as they say, and the regression sets in. It certainly didn't help matters that the Packers crushed us that week. Ponder did the team no favors, with a completion % of 47%, Y/A of 5.6, and a terrible A.Y.A. of 4.26. Interestingly, Ponder was actually given a better grade in this game than in the Carolina game. Truthfully though, there isn't much to be said about this game. Ponder performed poorly, and the team around him didn't play particularly well either. While his grade was better, it was still bad, especially passing the ball.
Week 11: Raiders @ Vikings
Another week, some more regression from #7. While his completion % wasn't particularly horrible, his Y/A was a mediocre 6.4 and his A.Y.A. was an unheard of 3.52. I actually redid the calculation for that one, because I thought I had to have messed up, it was so bad. Unfortunately, the calculation was correct. Not a good showing by any means. He definitely didn't get a lot of help from the run game, as AD went out with a sprained ankle after only 6 carries. Still, that low of an A.Y.A. is only explained through poor QB play, and while I mentioned the poor running game that day in a sort of defense of his play, it really has to be said that his play was so bad, that it is completely on his shoulders. I don't care who your receivers are, that low of an A.Y.A. is inexcusable.
Week 12: Vikings @ Falcons
In this game, Ponder definitely bounced back, completing 68% of his passes en route to a decent 7.4 Y/A and a much improved 8.24 A.Y.A. This is also one of only two games he started that PFF graded out as a positive performance from Ponder. Looking at his first 4 starts, he really has been all over the map in his performances, but this game was legitimately positive from all measures: PFF liked his performance, and his efficiency was much better. He had a very nice 4th down pass to Harvin for a TD to keep us in the game that was right on the money. Unfortunately, he started to tail off from this performance throughout the rest of the year.
Week 13: Broncos @ Vikings
Ponder had an average performance in this game. He threw a lot of passes this game, and racked up a ton of yardage. He ended up 29/47 for 381 yards, 3 TDs and 2 picks. He completed over 60% of his passes, which is always good to see, and had a pretty good Y/A at 8.1 His A.Y.A. wasn't quite as good, checking in at 7.47, which is slightly above league average (average being 6.89). It is interesting to gauge the reaction from fans as to what constitutes a good game. For example, his stats across the board, besides his raw, un-adjusted numbers, were better in the Falcons game. However, I feel that many people simply would look at his yardage and TDs and conclude that he played better against the Broncos than Falcons. You smart people wouldn't make this mistake I'm sure, but ESPN for example? That sounds like something they would do.
Week 14: Vikings @ Lions
This game just sucked, plain and simple. Ponder played terrible and we got screwed at the end to lose the game. This was another awful performance from #7, barely completing 50% of his passes, while tossing 3 interceptions on just 21 passing attempts. To put that in context, Webb, who took over, actually outplayed Ponder while posting an A.Y.A. of 3.65. Just to be clear, I bring up that stat just to show how bad Ponder was, and in no way am I advocating for Webb to be the QB. I hope I made that clear. Ponder's game was....poor. His Y/A was 5.5, and his A.Y.A. was 0.95. It was that bad. Certainly, he earned his benching that week.
Week 15: Saints @ Vikings
Ponder managed to play the full game this week, and although his performance was better, he would have had to actually pull out something amazing to make it worse. He completed under 50% of his passes, but did manage to throw more TDs (2) than picks (1) this week. This was actually his worst week so far in terms of his Y/A, which was 3.9. His A.Y.A. was better than the previous, which isn't saying much, as it was 3.71, under the league average by a considerable amount.
Week 16: Vikings @ Redskins
Ponder didn't complete the game this week, although it wasn't his fault this time. He was knocked out of the game with a concussion, prematurely ending his week. Although it was a slight improvement, he still played quite poorly, with a Y/A of 5.2 and an A.Y.A. of 5.23. On the bright side, he did complete over 60% of his passes. Nothing else needs to be said about this game, for numerous reasons.
Week 17: Bears @ Vikings
There isn't really much that can be gleaned from this game, as the sample size of Ponder's passes is extremely small. He only attempted 10 passes in the game, and even though it was his worst performance yet, I find it difficult to judge him too harshly for this game, because, as I stated, the sample size of passes was so small. For what its worth, his Y/A was 2.8 and his A.Y.A. was actually negative, measuring in at -1.70.
Counting only the games that he started, he finished the year with a Y/A of 6.4, and an A.Y.A. at 5.22. Let's briefly look at how he performed throwing to different targets. All stats are courtesy of Rotoviz.com, an excellent fantasy football website. His best target, unsurprisingly, was Percy Harvin. Ponder's A.Y.A. while throwing to Harvin was a sterling 8.46. Ponder targeted Harvin 63 times his rookie year. Next up on the list is Devin Aromashodu, with 58 attempts. As you will see, Ponder wasn't quite as good when targeting Aromashodu. And by not quite as good, I mean he was f**king horrible, with an A.Y.A. of 0.67. For the second targeted receiver, this is plain awful. Shiancoe checks in as the third-most targeted receiver, with an A.Y.A. of 6.83, which as I stated earlier, is very nearly league average. Michael Jenkins also had an A.Y.A. with Ponder of 6.83. Rudolph checks in with an A.Y.A. of 6.55. After that, the sample size either becomes too small, or becomes distorted because they are running backs who are targeted, who would naturally have a lower A.Y.A.
If you don't want to mess around reading through a wall of text, here it is in bulleted form:
- Percy Harvin- A.Y.A. 8.46
- Devin Aromashodu-A.Y.A. 0.67
- Visanthe Shiancoe-A.Y.A. 6.83
- Michael Jenkins-A.Y.A. 6.83
- Kyle Rudolph-A.Y.A. 6.55
That's all I'm really going to write about Ponder's rookie year, because even though it was mostly a dumpster fire, he was just a rookie, and had to pass to Devin Aromashodu. To put it into context, as bad as his rookie season seemed, he wasn't even the worst rookie QB in terms of A.Y.A. The following bulleted list shows the QB, as well as their total A.Y.A., from best to worst.
- Jake Locker* A.Y.A. 9.42
- Cam Newton A.Y.A. 7.17
- Andy Dalton A.Y.A. 6.23
- Christian Ponder A.Y.A. 5.22
- Blaine Gabbert A.Y.A. 4.74
* Locker's A.Y.A. should be taken with a grain of salt, due to the fact that it came on a total of 66 pass attempts.
Cam Newton had a better season than Ponder, that much is certain, but Andy Dalton, the QB who many compare Ponder to, didn't have that much better a season than Ponder in their respective rookie years. After I did this research, it actually gave me hope for his future as a passer. Even though his A.Y.A. was low, he was a rookie, on a 3-13 team, with an aging TE, a rookie TE, and no true #1 receiver (sorry Percy). I had hope until I researched his sophomore year.
Year Two: Help us ADMVP, You're Our Only Hope
Ponder's second year wasn't good. Although some take heart in the fact that he was the last to throw a pick (so what?) or that he led the Vikings to a 3-1 start, over a 16 game stretch his play was, to put it kindly, uneven. I'm not going to break down all 16 games this time around, but I will break up the season into 4 quarters, to condense some of the 'raw' stats for you guys.
Quarter 1: Cautiously Optimistic
Ponder started out the year well according to most fans and observes of the game. No picks, Vikings jumped out to 3-1, including a great win over the 49ers (which was my first ever game at the dome, hell ya). And, truth be told, Ponder played decently. His 6.7 Y/A wasn't great, but his A.Y.A. of 7.35 was slightly above average. It definitely seemed that he had taken the proverbial 'step forward'.
Quarter 2: The Shine Wears Off
Unfortunately, Ponder's solid play did not last. During the next 1/4 of the season, his Y/A dropped slightly to 6.61, and his A.Y.A. fell to a not so good 5.21. That is a terrible 4 game stretch, and it is as bad as the composite performance of his rookie year. Definitely a huge regression there, and it is fueled by 7 interceptions in a 4 game stretch.
Quarter 3: Shit gets Real
During the next four games, things just got worse for Ponder. His Y/A plummeted to 4.61, and his A.Y.A. fell even further, to 3.79. He definitely wasn't helped by losing Percy Harvin for the Season in the first game of quarter 3 (Seattle game) but regardless, these numbers are horrific. There isn't a defense of numbers these poor, as I don't buy that not having Harvin was the cause of these numbers. I don't buy that excuse because in quarter 2, Ponder had Harvin for all 4 games and was still awful. While it is true to some extent that losing Harvin did have an impact on Ponder's game, because he was bad before he lost Harvin, it is hard to give Ponder much of a pass.
Quarter 4: Hope Springs Eternal I guess
Ponder's Quarter 4 was a definite improvement, that much is clear. How much of an improvement is up for debate even today in the comments section. What is clear, is that although he improved, he was still below league average in the final quarter. His A.Y.A. improved to 6.72, just below league average. If we could get this consistently from Ponder, I would be somewhat satisfied. His Y/A was a mediocre 6.36. It should be pointed out though, that week 17 was different.
It's actually kind of sad that his quarter 4 numbers are only as 'good' as they are because Ponder truly had a terrific week 17. I can't take anything away from him for that game against the Packers. He was efficient, and didn't throw any interceptions. His Y/A was a very good 8.35, and his A.Y.A. was a sterling 10.50. He really did have an amazing game. I'm not sure exactly what caused such a turnaround for that one week, but this game is the source of much of the hope that Vikings fans have for 2013 in regards to Ponder. For that one game, he really did play at an Elite level. Whether that transfers over to 2013, we shall see.
2012 Season in Review
Ponder again finished with a pedestrian A.Y.A., and again he only had 1 target that was consistently above average. I'll let you guys figure out who it was. Hint: YOU SHOULDN'T NEED A HINT. One thing to note: although it was a small sample size (36 targets), when Ponder was throwing to Jarius Wright, his A.Y.A. was well above average, at 8.47. To put it into context, Ponder to Harvin was 'only' 7.61. Oh shit....I told you who is highly targeted above average A.Y.A. target was. Oops.
Ponder's 2013 Season: Here We go Again?
While Ponder definitely finished on a high note in 2012, his season as a whole still wasn't exactly amazing. He slightly improved on his A.Y.A., from 5.22 to 5.7 His Y/A actually got worse, from 6.2 to 6.08. Not much worse, but it definitely didn't improve. But maybe his perennially low A.Y.A. isn't that bad of an indicator. Maybe other, more heralded young QBs also had similar struggles. Lets take a look again at his 2011 compatriots, as well as throwing in the 2012 rookies A.Y.A.
First, the Sophomores, this time with Colin Kaepernick thrown in.
- Colin Kaepernick A.Y.A. 9.02
- Cam Newton A.Y.A. 8.64
- Andy Dalton A.Y.A. 7.86
- Jake Locker A.Y.A. 7.39
- Blaine Gabbert A.Y.A. 6.44
- Christian Ponder A.Y.A. 5.70
Now the 2012 Rookies. Don't hold your breath people, it doesn't get any better for Ponder.
- Robert Griffin III A.Y.A. 9.03
- Andrew Luck A.Y.A. 7.61
- Ryan Tannehill A.Y.A. 7.18
As you can see, every single QB on this list beats Ponder. Every. Single. One. The fact that he didn't really improve at all from Year 1 to Year 2, while even Blaine Gabbert got better, is really a massive red flag for me. However, Ponder still may yet salvage success going forward. Astute readers will have correctly pointed out by now (probably multiple times) that A.Y.A. is not just dependent on the QB. It is also affected by the WR the QB is throwing to. If the QB is throwing to a terrible WR, who struggles to get open and make catches, than the A.Y.A. between the QB and WR will suffer. With the Vikings bringing in CP84 and Greg Jennings, as well as the health of Simpson returned and the progress of Wright, Ponder should have a much improved receiver unit this year, which will hopefully lead to an improvement in his A.Y.A.
This will truly be a barometer for him. If his A.Y.A. hovers between 5 and 6, we are in big trouble. But if he can just take a jump to league average, this team has a chance to really do some damage. At this point, I don't actually think that will happen, but I wouldn't be shocked if he were to make a jump toward average. I don't think that will happen because even though he didn't have a great WR core, he still should have shown improvement. The fact that he didn't at all, like I said before, is a massive red flag for me.
Well, thank you for sticking with me on this long and somewhat meandering post of mine. I hope you enjoyed it, although my conclusion probably didn't make me any friends here. I just want to say this about Ponder though: even though I don't think he will pan out, and that the Vikings are wasting their time, I don't dislike Ponder. In fact, it is quite the opposite. I am seriously rooting for him. I don't know what it is, but he just seems like a genuinely nice dude, who is a good leader, and extremely hard worker. There are worse guys to root for. I really do hope he pans out and succeeds, and this post and the findings within it don't change that.
Thanks again for your time guys!
Edit: I should point out, that I haven't been able to corroborate the value I listed for league average A.Y.A. I will continue to look around for it and verify that 6.89 is indeed the league average A.Y.A.