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2011 NFL Draft Prospects for 49ers to Watch: QB Christian Ponder

Hey, it's the Super Bowl hangover show and I'm your host: Tre9er.  Today we're going to start talking about guys the 49ers could target in the upcoming 2011 NFL Draft, and why I think they're valuable options to consider.  For no good reason (okay, for a darn good reason, being: WE NEED A QB!) I decided to start out with former Florida State QB Christian Ponder.

Ponder is a guy who was once mentioned among the top few QB's in this draft as recently as fall of 2010.  Injuries to his shoulder and elbow coupled with some questionable performances have dropped his stock in the past few months.  Still, I think he's someone the 49ers should be looking at and considering to draft, though I see him going as early as the late-first round - yeah, I said the late-first round.

I'm no prognosticator, or at least nobody pays attention to my predictions per se...but it wouldn't be the first time a kid - especially a QB - jumped up into the bottom of the first.  Can you say "Tee-boe"?

Now, one source I've been using the heck out of lately for draft prospect scouting info is National Football Post's Scouting Department.  Wes Bunting is a guy who's written for several draft/scouting sites as well as being plugged in to various sources via his connections through NFP.  Bunting travels to all of the pre-draft all-star games as well as many pro-days and the NFL Scouting Combine.

Bunting and NFP's scouting info aren't the only pieces of info I use to come up with my thoughts on players, but for the sheer amount of free info available (in-depth scouting on just about every player who's draft-eligible), you can't beat their site.  I'll reference a few other sources as we go along too and give some background on them.  After the jump, let's get into some Christian Ponder discussion.

NFP has Ponder rated as the second QB on their big board currently, and his stock has recently gone up to place him there.  Ponder had a great week at the Senior Bowl both in practice and the game itself.  He flung an early deep ball that was very underthrown, but his receiver adjusted and was able to come down with it.  Although that throw and his overall statistics weren't particulary impressive, it was the little things I saw that I liked.

Ponder did a good job moving his eyes, shuffling his feet, and finding the open receiver.  His footwork from under center is very good amongst the QB's in this class as he played from pro-sets a lot in college.  He showed good short-to-intermediate accuracy and great anticipation - particularly on the back-shoulder throw to Leonard Hankerson for a touchdown.  Ponder let the ball go before Hankerson even made his break and when the ball arrived it was right on the receiver's outside shoulder, away from the defender.  Hankerson turned, caught the pass and his momentum basically carried him the last few yards into the end zone.

It's Ponder's accuracy and timing that intrigues me due to the nature of the West Coast Offense (WCO) involving a lot of quick, well-timed short throws all over the field.  I also like that Ponder has good mechanics, get's the ball out quickly and has played under center.  His arm strengh remains the biggest question mark besides injuries...which sort of go hand-in-hand.

Here's what Bunting had to say about Ponder:

Showcases good anticipation, accuracy and touch on all levels of the field. Spins a really clean football and consistently is able to throw to open receivers both down the seam and outside the numbers. Exhibits a real rhythm in the short passing game as well, quickly setting his feet both from under center and from the gun, striding toward his target and accurately picking defenses apart.

Bunting did also mention that Ponder struggled at times with his progressions and in general just didn't come up big enough his senior year in college.  He notes that Ponder was hit a lot and seemed to play gun-shy at times.  It seems that the time away from FSU and playing with an offensive line of top talent served his confidence and nerves well though as he didn't seem intimidated in the Senior Bowl.

In summation: I think Ponder is a guy who is rising and can only go up from here with a strong showing at his pro-day (which will be scripted to specifically show off his arm in a positive light) and the NFL Combine.  He's a kid who probably isn't ready to start day one in the NFL but is smart and can digest an offense quickly.  I think he could, if necessary, come on in relief of the current starter by mid-year in 2011 and would be ideally positioned to start in 2012 if all goes well.

For the cost of a second round pick, widely believed to be his current stock, the big-money contract and all the pressure to perform aren't there, which is a good situation for a rookie QB as we've all seen the opposite scenario.  I think Ponder could be part of a multi-player strategy at the QB position that incorporates some "win-now" with some "future starter".  A guy like him could become a short-term trusty backup and still be worthy of the pick, like a Kevin Kolb type of guy.