Some of you have noticed that ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski is conducting a 30-part review of the NFL's top quarterbacks, a production that should generate considerable interest in this division as we approach the top 10. The NFC North portion kicked off, however, with the Minnesota Vikings' Christian Ponder checking in at No. 28.
We discussed Ponder's goals and challenges for improvement last month. Jaworski said he expects Ponder "to improve significantly this season" and pointed out some positives and negatives in his assessment. Here are some excerpts:
"Ponder has many of the attributes I look for when I evaluate quarterbacks. I saw pocket movement, the ability to move within the pocket, maintain downfield focus and deliver the football with accuracy. I also saw the added dimension of getting outside the pocket in response to pressure with the speed to create an explosive gain. And how about this for a rookie quarterback: Ponder’s rating was 114, the NFL’s best inside the 20. His movement was also a big factor, as was his willingness to make stick throws into those small windows, a necessity in the tight red zone area. …
As he begins his second season, Ponder needs work as a progression reader. He had a tendency to predetermine some throws, and, in addition, there were too many times he did not recognize the coverage."
Jaworski specifically noted the first of Ponder's three interceptions in a Week 11 loss to the Oakland Raiders. (Video here via NFL.com.) On the play, Ponder forced a pass to his first read -- slot receiver Percy Harvin -- even though safety Matt Giordano had the play read perfectly from the outset.
Jaworski: "His primary read was Percy Harvin on a corner route from the slot. The half-field safety was sitting right there, settled, looking back at Ponder. As a quarterback, you have to be aware of that. That’s part of the learning curve for Ponder."
That example fits perfectly with something Ponder acknowledged was an important part of his progression last month. As part of an effort to be more efficient on first down, Ponder said he wants to be more aware of checkdown possibilities.
"Just [need to make] smarter decisions, I think," he said. "Not trying to force the ball down the field. I think if we have go routes called, if it's not open, have the patience to be able to check it down. It all comes down to patience and knowing your reads and finding the open guy. Football is not a hard game. You've just got to find the open guy and get the ball to him."
We'll keep you updated on where Jaworski ranks Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler and Matthew Stafford. He is reporting on one player per day, so I'm guessing it will be a few weeks before we circle back on this project from a division perspective.
(Hat tip to ESPN communications guru Bill Hofheimer for passing along the transcript of Jaworski's analysis.)