Much has been made of Ponder since the Senior Bowl in Mobile, but what I’ve noticed is that a lot of it is just media generated fluff. Ponder really didn’t have that great a game, or practice week. Sure he had decent numbers in the game, and actually won the MVP award bafflingly enough, but to anyone watching, he under threw receivers, and just doesn’t have the requisite ball velocity to be be able to be considered a viable option at quarterback, in the NFL.
Size: At 6’2″ 222, Ponder is riding the fine line toward being too small for the NFL. His height is considered the minimum height necessary to see over the offensive line. At 222 pounds, Ponder could stand to add another ten pounds of chest mass, to be able to withstand the repeated hits quarterbacks take in the NFL.
Arm Strength: Arm strength is easily the weakest area of Ponder’s game. Looking at tape prior to his 2009 shoulder injury, Ponder threw with better velocity than he does now. After dealing with the separated shoulder, and the elbow problems, he just doesn’t have the requisite arm strength and velocity needed to succeed at the NFL level. One look at his first throw in the Senior Bowl, really hammers this home. Ponder under threw a wide open Leonard Hankerson, floating the ball out to him that would easily have been pick by most defensive backs in the NFL. While he spins the ball pretty cleanly, it just doesn’t come out strong enough. I don’t think even a dink and dunk, west coast system will be able to mask his inability to drive the ball down field.
Accuracy: Ponder has shown a good ability to place the ball in tight windows inside of fifteen yards. At further distances his accuracy wanes, as he is unable to sling the ball with the requisite velocity, to be where it needs to be. He places the ball in tight on screens, and leads the back well on swing passes, enabling his receivers to tuck the ball in efficiently, and turn up field quickly, but again, on anything downfield receivers are constantly forced to adjust to the ball.
Mechanical: Mechanically Ponder is very sound. His release is compact and quick, his footwork crisp in his drops, and there is no wasted motion in his delivery. Ponder has worked from under center quite a bit at Florida State, and shows no issues with the exchange from Center.
Mobility: Ponder has good mobility. He has shown both an ability to extend the play with his feet, and the ability to pick up yardage when nothing is available downfield. He’s at his best when bootlegging off of play action.
Pre/Post snap reads: Ponder seems to diagnose defenses fairly well before the snap, he identifies zone blitzes well. Post snap he keeps his eye level up, but has trouble believing he can make throws that he can’t. He will try to squeeze the ball into windows he’s not capable of throwing into.
Intangibles: Watching him on tape, the much overwrought “it” never jumped out at me. Given Ponder’s struggles since his shoulder injury and the issues he dealt with, with the swollen Bursa Sac in his throwing elbow, it will be necessary to give him an extremely thorough physical as well.
Character: By all accounts Ponder is a clean kid, and a tremendous scholar. He graduated Florida State in two and a half years with a degree in finance and a 3.73 GPA. He was awarded the 2010 James Tatum award, given to the nation’s top student-athlete, and a National Football Foundation Scholar-Athlete Award. He has already completed his MBA, and is studying for his second graduate degree, in sports management.
Ponder is a very cerebral player, who comes from football stock (his father played defensive line at Florida State under Bowden as well), but injuries have sapped the strength from an arm that was never elite to begin with. I would feel uncomfortable spending anything higher than a 5th rounder on Ponder, and even then it would need to be a very specific situation; ideally a west coast offense for a team that doesn’t play many games outdoors in the wind.