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This 'reach' may actually turn out well

Last week's question, were the Minnesota Vikings reaching for the golden ring or in desperation, will be answered in, let's say, four to five years.

But in this day and age of the NFL fan, that amount of time is literally an eternity -- "now" is what they want and usually, "now" is what they get.

Even if it's premature.

NFL analysts get paid pretty well for giving "now" to the information-starved football fan, so it's no wonder the Vikings' first-round pick of Florida State's Christian Ponder was quite the controversial one.

Terms such as "reaching" and "desperation" were used by NFL pundits last Thursday evening around the 7 p.m. hour.

Ponder wasn't thought of as first-round material, with such physically more gifted QB's as Cam Newton, Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert and Ryan Mallet gaining more headlines.

But the fact was, even though there were an abnormal amount of teams who were quarterback starved, there wasn't that sure-fire, blue-chip QB in this draft.

Yes, Newton (the Heisman Trophy winner), who accomplished one of the best college seasons ever for a QB, was the No. 1 overall selection, while Locker went at No. 8 to Tennessee and Gabbert, No. 10 to a trading up Jacksonville.

Three signal callers going in the top 10 showed that there were more teams needing a franchise quarterback than in the past.

In fact, realistically, eight of the top 12 teams drafting could have gone for a quarterback.

So back to Ponder: Besides giving the Minnesota and national media the chance to write up lame puns using his name in headlines, was this a move the Vikings needed to make?

The draft didn't go perfectly for the Vikes and their wishes to draft only their third-ever quarterback in the first round. With Newton going No. 1, things did shape up a little after QB-needy teams such as Buffalo, Arizona and San Francisco went another direction.

On a side note, the Cardinals landed the best player in the draft in cornerback/safety Patrick Peterson of LSU, so now they are in line to trade their second rounder for veteran Kevin Kolb.

Anyway, with those teams passing, Locker and Gabbert were falling -- good news for the Vikings.

But in a somewhat surprising move, the Titans elected to go with the athletic and strong-armed Locker -- thus sucking the gusto out of Viking fans' sails.

At No. 10, the Redskins -- who currently have someone called John Beck on top of the QB chart -- chose to trade down to No. 16 and allow Jacksonville to take Gabbert.

Leading up to the draft, all the "experts" said there were three QB's on one level and a bunch grouped up on another, in the form of Colin Kaepernick, Mallet, Ponder and Andy Dalton.

The Vikings at No. 12 had the chance to land top-rated cornerback Prince Amukamara or defensive tackle and SEC Defensive Player of the Year Nick Fairley.

Either one would have soothed all draftniks. It would have made sense, no reaching, safe picks.

But here's the reality of the situation the Vikings were in: that's exactly what this team has done over and over for the last three decades -- sans the Daunte Culpepper pick -- as they watched team after team win Super Bowls keyed by a franchise quarterback.

Yes, either Fairley or Amukamara would have been solid selections and actually needed picks, as well as possibly being the best players available.

Ponder has been called a "reach" by many. But after the dust has settled, how much of a reach was he?

Reports that he could have been selected in the second round are now being proven false. Ponder was actually a hot commodity for teams hoping they were the only ones having the inside scoop on the FSU quarterback.

Plenty of reports are now coming out that the Redskins traded back to No. 16 with the hope Ponder would have fallen to them. Others had the Dolphins ready to pounce on the QB at No. 15, instead opting for center Mike Pouncey (another great selection).

The Bills also were reportedly ready to trade back up in the first round to nab Ponder.

So the fallacy that Ponder would have slipped to the second round lost its legs.

No doubt, there are concerns about Ponder, such as his "just over-average arm" and the surgeries he's had to his throwing limb.

All are valid concerns, and big reasons why he wasn't as highly regarded heading into the draft.

Personally, after the selection at No. 12, I thought it was a reach, but one which almost had to be made because of the situation. I compared Ponder to a potential Brad Johnson, in that he will be a safe quarterback, smart, but not that franchise type who can win games by himself.

Still could be that situation, but after digging a little on Ponder, the pick is looking like less of a reach than most think.

First, his arm strength.

Ponder was suffering from a burst bursa sac in his throwing elbow his senior year. He was said to have had over 400 c.c.'s of fluid drained from his forearm after every game.

Toughness intangible, check.

Ponder was a three-year starter at FSU and during that time, he won 26 games, threw for 6,872 yards (fourth all-time at Florida State), had 7,705 yards of total offense (third all-time) and 49 touchdown passes (third all-time).

His stock rises with his career completion percentage of 61.9 percent.

Ponder accomplished all of this, despite not having one single offensive skill position player taken in the NFL during those three years he started.

So yes, on the college level, he can carry teams -- thus possessing that leadership quality so much needed by franchise quarterbacks.

As the QB of FSU his junior and senior years, he knew how to play in pressure situations as well. He had a 78.9 completion percentage for 1,156 yards when the game was tied. When the 'Noles were losing by seven points or less, he completed 64.4 percent of his passes, for five touchdowns and one interception.

He had a 61.6 completion percentage in the fourth quarter his final two years, while throwing for five TDs (a low number) and two interceptions. Against AP ranked teams, he threw 61.5 percent, nine TDs and three INTs in two seasons.

In the red zone those last two years, he had FSU in the top five in the nation in red zone success, completing 45 of 72 passes for 373 yards, with 22 touchdowns and only one interception.

Third and goal resulted in success, as well, as he converted 8-11 for 44 yards, with seven touchdowns and no interceptions.

His third down passer rating was 131.0 (41 of his 45 third down completions were for either TD's or first downs) and a TD-INT ratio of 20-8. In his fourth-quarter come from behind wins, Ponder completed 67.5 percent of his passes and had a 160.7 passer rating with a 2-0 TD-INT ratio.

These detailed stats came thanks to's CJ Siewert and Mike Wobschall.

So, in essence, Ponder was a winner in college, and he was a big reason for that success. His accuracy is his strength and it looks, at least on the highest college level, like he isn't a choker and doesn't have many meltdowns.

He can handle the pressure.

Now will this translate into Joe Montana or Tom Brady like performances or career? least.

The Vikings' new regime of Leslie Frazier did feel enough was enough, though, of applying old and used up bandages at the position which has proven to be key to win a Super Bowl.

In the end, they may not have reached for their future franchise quarterback.

Only time will tell -- if you can wait that long, that is.

Brian Wierima
Detroit Lakes Newspapers Sports Editor for the last 15 years. St. Cloud State University graduate, who hails from Deer Creek, MN.