One of the things that we're banking on as fans of the Minnesota Vikings is that quarterback Christian Ponder is going to be markedly better in 2012 than he was in 2011, and it really does make sense to think that he will be. He'll have a better protector on his blindside, he will still have the benefit of a pretty good rushing game (with or without Adrian Peterson, though obviously the former is better), and the team has upgraded the weapons around him.
But we've been saying that forever. . .now, somebody else is saying it, too. That somebody is K.C. Joyner, ESPN.com's Football Scientist. In his latest column, Joyner identifies some quarterbacks from what he deems to be "low-tier teams" that could be in line for a big leap in 2011, and #7 tops his list.
Joyner puts the blame for Ponder's lack of success in 2011 on the lack of a real downfield passing attack, which is something I'm pretty sure we all had figured out already. He points to players like wide receiver Devin Aromashodu, who was targeted on 56 "vertical" passes last season (passes that travel at least 11 yards in the air), and rewarded the team by posting the second-worst yards/attempt among receivers that were targeted on at least 50 such passes.
The two members of Ponder's new supporting cast that he identifies as being of the most help are wide receivers Jerome Simpson and Jarius Wright, both of whom should be able to help stretch the field for Minnesota. Simpson ranked quite highly last season in yards/attempt on passes that traveled between 11 and 19 yards in the air, according to Joyner, which will help Ponder a lot, but the surprise comes from Wright.
Prior to the draft, Joyner put together a list of who he thought the top 10 wide receivers in the 2012 NFL Draft were, based on their college metrics. He looked at age, height, speed (40-yard dash time), overall yards/attempt, and yards/attempt on passes of various lengths, broken into short, medium, and long passes. Jarius Wright wound up being third on that list. Yes, that's out of all the receivers that were available this past April. Wright led the group in "vertical" yards/attempt (which, again, are passes that travel 11 to 19 yards in the air) and third in "stretch vertical" yards/attempt (passes that travel 20 or more yards in the air).
On that top ten list that Joyner put together, the only two players listed ahead of Wright were two players that went in the second round. . .Georgia Tech's Stephen Hill (to the Jets) and LSU's Rueben Randle (to the Giants). The four receivers that went in the first round ranked fourth (A.J. Jenkins), fourth (Kendall Wright, who tied with Jenkins), sixth (Justin Blackmon), and sixth (Michael Floyd, who was in a three-way tie with Blackmon and Marvin McNutt). Alshon Jeffery, who the Bears took in the second round, was ninth on Joyner's list.
Joyner concludes his look at Ponder with this:
An upgraded supporting cast should also go a long way toward helping Ponder reduce his 4.3 percent bad decision rate (BDR) last year (BDR being a gauge of how often a quarterback makes a mental error that leads to a turnover or a near-turnover). That total was the third-highest in the league, but is not atypical of the BDR numbers posted by many of today's top quarterbacks early in their career and thus isn't an unsolvable problem.
Put it all together and it means Ponder has a clear path to vastly improving his ranking, and helping the Vikings get back into the playoff picture, in the next three years.
It says the "next three years" because the teams determined to be "bottom tier" came from an article that ESPN did where they projected their 2015 NFL Power Rankings. . .an article that I didn't bother linking or commenting on because it is, quite frankly, one of the most ridiculous damn things I've ever seen. It's hard enough to project the 2012 Power Rankings at this point. . .trying to do 2015 is just dumb.
But I expect to see the improvement from Christian Ponder starting this season, as the Vikings plug in Matt Kalil and a host of new, talented, athletic targets during their off-season and extended training camp. Anyone that's writing the guy off already. . .Vikings fan or otherwise. . .is in for a surprise in 2012, I think.