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  Is Ponder the Target?
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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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If the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) is not resolved in time for the April 28 NFL Draft, the ability of teams to move up and down the draft board will be constrained. For the Dolphins, their means of moving up the draft board to take a quarterback would be limited to current and future draft picks. Other options, such as leveraging the considerable depth they have on the defensive line in a trade, would not be possible.


While there is still plenty of time for the parties to reach an agreement, one must admit that things look considerably more grim today than they did a month or two ago. The players and the owners are more polarized now than ever, and that usually leads to long and protracted negotiations.


Those who read my stuff know that I believe that the Dolphins will use their first rounder (15th overall), directly or indirectly, in a move to draft a QB. That belief remains unchanged, regardless of the CBA status on April 28.


Again, even with the potential constraints, there are ways the Dolphins can get to their man. One approach I’d like to focus on here is a trade down to re-gain a second round pick.


Recall that GM Jeff Ireland expressed an interest in doing just that, a move I find completely plausible. While such a play would probably remove the top two QB talents from consideration, it would bring others into the picture. One man in particular who I find intriguing in this scenario is Florida State’s Christian Ponder.


Time now for full disclosure: I’m an FSU alumnus, and I’ve personally watched most of the games that Ponder has played in. While I’m not a talent scout by any stretch of the imagination, there are certain facts in Ponder’s case to become a Miami Dolphin that I find compelling.


Start with Dolphin GM Jeff Ireland, who is a known admirer of the Nick Saban coaching tree. Coaches that come from this tree tend to gain his attention and respect for the way they develop their players. FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher is a member of that tree, having worked for Saban at LSU as his offensive coordinator before leaving for FSU as heir apparent to Bobby Bowden in 2007.


Fisher’s methods, especially in terms of the mental aspect of the game, are something that Ireland likes. And Fisher coached Ponder for his entire college career, three of the four years as his offensive coordinator/QB coach. When you watch Ponder play, it is clear that he is a polished player who has all the tools to succeed at the next level.


This is why I think Ireland disagrees with gurus like Scouts Inc. regarding their opinion of Ponder’s “Intelligence/Decision Making”, which they judge to be “below average”. As with all QBs, this is a crucial factor because it is the mental aspect (the critical “six inches between the ears”) that makes or breaks quarterbacks more than any other.


The stats would tend to support Ponder’s case in this regard: 49 TDs, 30 INTs, and almost 7,000 yards passing with a 62% completion rate. Off the field, his scholastic accomplishments are exemplary: winner of the 2010 James Tatum award (nation's top student-athlete), graduating in two and one half years with a degree in finance and a 3.73 GPA.


In short, Ponder is a guy who would not require as much time as most rookie QBs to be ready to play. And with superior weapons like Brandon Marshall and Davone Bess to help him, I can easily see how he would do well in Brian Daboll’s system.


Physically, Ponder can make every throw at the NFL level. His solid workout at the combine reinforced what I’d seen of him over the past four seasons. He has very good mobility and escapability, with good pocket presence and a fine sense of the pass rush. He is plenty good enough to run the Wildcat if called upon, as Fisher used him extensively on option plays.


As for the intangibles, such as toughness, character, and leadership, Ponder scores well. He is an outstanding leader, the type of man who could LEAD the Dolphin offense. He’s a person of fine character, strongly devoted to community service, which aligns very well to owner Stephen Ross’s organizational philosophy; a “face of the franchise”, if you will. And though Ponder has suffered through his share of injuries (more on this in a moment), he isn’t afraid of contact; he often played hurt and played well.


So that’s the good news.


The two areas of concern to be weighed with Ponder, in my opinion, are as follows.


The first is his durability. Ponder was injured his last two seasons, with shoulder and elbow problems that caused him to miss games. You never like to see a QB with a history of arm problems. Now perhaps this can be alleviated with added bulk, but the injuries themselves might have been avoided had he protected himself better and not been as reckless. Nevertheless, this is certainly a red flag on Ireland’s scouting report.


The second is his penchant for aggressive decision-making. Ponder sometimes forced passes and tried to make plays that just weren’t there. Perhaps this is something that can be tamed in the pros, or perhaps this is a quality that the Dolphin offense has been missing. Whatever the case, my sense is that it needs to be tamed just a bit, because Ponder is closer to Brett Favre in this regard rather than Dan Marino.


In closing, I think Ponder is someone worth watching, especially if Ireland intends to make good on his intention to trade down to recoup a second round pick. While I don’t think Ponder merits the 15th pick of the draft, it wouldn’t overly surprise me if he is taken at that spot given the potential constraints this year in moving up and down the board, and the probable lack of willingness to take a chance in losing him if indeed he is their target.

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