EDEN PRAIRIE, MINN. (AP) - The Minnesota Vikings had gone 12 years without taking a quarterback in the first round of the draft.
With Brett Favre back to retirement, NFL free agency not yet begun and no other proven options on the roster, the Vikings grabbed gritty Christian Ponder from Florida State with the 12th overall pick on Thursday night.
Fans gathered at a draft party inside the team’s practice facility groaned when Washington’s Jake Locker went with the eighth pick to the Tennessee Titans and again when Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert was gone at No. 10 after Jacksonville traded up.
They booed when Ponder’s name was announced, the fourth quarterback taken in this quarterback-deep draft, apparently convinced his value didn’t match the slot. But Vikings vice president for player personnel Rick Spielman said the team likes Ponder’s poise, intelligence and accuracy, and he said the asking price was too high for them to trade up and get Gabbert before the Jaguars.
“The thing we went back and forth on was, ‘When are you going to get another chance to swing?’ If Ponder was gone, would we get another opportunity to take a quarterback in this draft?” Spielman said. “We didn’t want to take that risk.”
The Vikings also considered trading down, but they simply worried about waiting too long to take a player at the position they arguably needed the most this season.
“Quarterback was a huge need for us,” Spielman said. “Everybody knows that.”
Ponder is only the third quarterback the Vikings have drafted in the first round in their 51-year history, joining Tommy Kramer in 1977 and Daunte Culpepper in 1999. Culpepper was a multiyear Pro Bowl pick, but ever since he tore up his knee during a scramble in a game in 2005 the Vikings have been piecing together the game’s most critical position.
Brad Johnson. Tarvaris Jackson. Kelly Holcomb. Brooks Bollinger. Gus Frerotte. And Favre, whose sensational, age-defying 2009 season that brought them within four points of the Super Bowl was followed by an epic collapse by the NFL’s all-time leading passer and the entire team. Heck, even the stadium’s roof fell down, in that heavy snowstorm last December.
The Vikings raved about the smarts that they believe Ponder, who has his master’s degree in business administration, will bring to the position. He played in a pro-style offense with the Seminoles that’s similar to what the Vikings will run under new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave.
Ponder expressed confidence about his ability to quickly pick up the system.
“I think I’ll be really prepared,” he said.
The downsides to Ponder, according to most draft analysts, are past injuries and perhaps arm strength. But Ponder said he felt he proved his health is not a concern, recovering from a forearm problem with a fluid buildup and finishing his senior season strong. His showing at the Senior Bowl helped push his stock higher, and a visit with Spielman, Musgrave and head coach Leslie Frazier during his on-campus workout gave Vikings leaders plenty to consider.
“We all came away from that visit going, ‘Man, if that guy’s there, it would be hard to pass him up,’” Frazier said.
Ponder joked that he’ll be all right with a left tackle (Bryant McKinnie) and a wide receiver (Percy Harvin) who came from Florida State’s two biggest rivals, Miami and Florida, respectively. He sounded polished and cordial, eager to embrace his role and responsibilities.
“I dealt with being the face of Florida State and handling the pressure there,” Ponder said. “Obviously it’s a whole ‘nother level in the NFL, but I don’t think anyone else puts as much pressure on me as I do on myself. I’m a perfectionist. … No one’s expectations exceed mine.”
With the lockout lifted by a court ruling, for now, players will be welcome to arrive at Winter Park on Friday for workouts, playbooks and conversations with coaches. Frazier said he’s putting together a schedule for offseason practices, known as organized team activities, and the mandatory minicamps. Ponder was scheduled to travel to Minnesota on Friday to get his NFL career started.
As a first-time head coach, Frazier’s term _ however long it lasts _ will likely be tied to the success or failure of Ponder in this coach- and quarterback-driven league.
“That may happen, but I feel good about it,” Frazier said. “That’s one of the reasons I endorsed this pick, so that’s not a problem for me. I’m looking forward to Christian being our quarterback and doing a great job for us for a long time to come.”
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