EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings made no secret of their desire to take a quarterback in the first round of the 2011 draft, and TCU's Andy Dalton was high on their list of options. They brought Dalton to their team facility for their annual top-30 prospects event, where coach Leslie Frazier said he came away liking Dalton even more.
"I watched him on tape. I looked at him a lot, and then when he came to visit, I sat down and talked with him," Frazier said. "I was really, really impressed with his leadership. We had another offensive lineman here at the time from the same school, and I talked with him about Andy, because I was so impressed. And then watching him on tape, he's done a lot of things that we kind of thought he would be able to do. He's a very good football player, a solid player."
It all had Dalton believing he could possibly go to the Vikings with the 12th pick in the draft, but beforehand, the Vikings had decided they wanted to target Florida State's Christian Ponder. They selected him 12th overall, and Dalton slid to No. 35, where the Cincinnati Bengals paired him with Georgia wideout A.J. Green, whom they'd taken ahead of all but one quarterback with the No. 4 overall pick.
The decisions have taken the Bengals and Vikings in markedly different directions. Cincinnati hasn't missed the playoffs in three seasons with Dalton as the starter, and Green has become a star a receiver. Ponder, meanwhile, will spend the final two games of his third season on the bench, barring an injury to Matt Cassel, and while Frazier said the decision to target Ponder over Dalton "worked out fine," it's hard to praise the decision in retrospect when Ponder hasn't played well enough to keep the starting job.
"He was our guy. We made that decision early on, and fortunately for us, we got to, I think it was 12, and he was there," Frazier said. "There were some other guys that went before him, but it worked out for us."
Dalton has certainly had issues as the Bengals' quarterback -- in fact, his Total QBR numbers aren't much better than Ponder's -- and he's had the benefit of a bona fide star at receiver like Green. He's been more prolific than Ponder, but he's thrown too many interceptions and has a worse completion percentage (61.5 percent to Ponder's 63.6 percent). But while the jury is still out on him in Cincinnati, he's at least been able to get the Bengals to the playoffs consistently, which has bought him more job security than Ponder.
Dalton said he still keeps track of the 2011 draft class, after playing some of them in college and going through the draft process with them. He and Ponder both played high school football in Texas at the same time, and Dalton said he went into the Senior Bowl that year well aware of whom he was competing against.
"You just try to impress everybody that you can," he said Wednesday. "You never know what's going to happen with the draft, and it's good to be on the same field with some of those guys and measure where you're at in different things. You kind of put yourself in a place to have that competition with those other guys."
Though Dalton hasn't answered all of the questions about his ability to play quarterback in the NFL, he's certainly ahead of Ponder in the competition at this point. And by next spring, the Vikings could be combing through another class of rookie quarterbacks. It's unlikely the Bengals will be doing the same.