The Vikings traded away talented headache Percy Harvin to the Seahawks this offseason for this very pick. Coincidentally, it is Harvin’s numbers that provide “Exhibit A” of why the Vikings may not be completely sold on Christian Ponder as their QB.
Last season, Christian Ponder threw the ball either behind the line of scrimmage or within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage on a whopping 73.6% of his pass attempts. He only threw the ball more than 20 yards down the field 32 times, or twice per game. The Vikings clearly did not feel comfortable allowing Ponder to take chances down the field, and it’s hard to blame them, considering his numbers when he did throw down the field further than 20 yards:
As a result, Percy Harvin had ridiculously inflated “yards after the catch” numbers. Of Harvin’s 677 receiving yards last season, 531 of them were after the catch. More alarming is that it’s not as if Harvin had some kind of impressive yards per catch total. He averaged a mere 10.9 yards per catch, which means that he was catching the bulk of his passes near the line of scrimmage. That’s similar to what you would get out of pass catching RB like Darren Sproles. For a QB, those passes are a small step up from a handoff.
In other words, Ponder has difficulty getting the ball to his wide receivers running traditional patterns, and with Harvin gone, so is his “easy throw crutch.”
The Vikings’ offense is basically going to consist of handing the ball to Adrian Peterson and praying he doesn’t get hurt. I just don’t see how this team can score consistently unless Ponder improves drastically. Is a drastic leap in production out of Ponder realistic? The Vikings will have to decide.
In regards to Manuel himself, I loved the quote from Mike Mayock (h/t to Mike Kaye of Bleeding Green Nation):
“I thought he had a solid Senior Bowl week, and coming out of the combine, I felt like there was a quiet buzz among some of the teams. Not just his workout. More importantly to me, they like the kid, they think he’s smart and in the meeting rooms at night, he passed that test.”
“This week I went and put three more tapes on, so I’ve seen six of his games now. I liked the Clemson tape, I thought he was really athletic and threw the ball well. … You know I don’t like this quarterback class, so if I’m going to make a mistake, I finally decided I’m going to make a mistake with a kid with size, arm talent and athletic ability and I think that’s what Manuel has.”
Here’s what I wrote about Manuel at the Senior Bowl:
E.J. Manuel had a few nice throws. When you talk about “QBs that can make all the throws,” Manuel fits the bill, with the key word being “can.” He throw with zip, with touch, and is occasionally accurate. Does “occasionally accurate” make sense? I guess what I mean there is that he’ll string together a few passes in a row that are right on the money, which tells me that he really is accurate, only with the occasional throw where you go, “What the hell is he throwing at?”
Drafting well isn’t just about picking players, and those players either playing well or not. The much more underrated aspect of how well teams draft is how well they develop their young players. Manuel has it all: Outstanding size, good speed, strong arm. Can the Vikings (or whomever) get him to be more consistent? If so, his ceiling is huge. That’s what makes Manuel such an intriguing prospect.