Otto Greule Jr./Getty
Former Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder completed 6 of 12 passes for 63 yards in the Vikings' 20-7 win Saturday at Seattle in Week 2 of the preseason.
Florida State delivered a pair of highly-rated prospects to the NFL Draft this past April, with quarterback Christian Ponder being chosen in the first round (No. 12 overall) by Minnesota and guard Rodney Hudson heading to Kansas City in Round 2 (55).
Ponder is considered the future for the Vikings at the game's most important position, as the two-year deal with the devil they signed Brett Favre to left them one step shy of the Super Bowl in 2009 but resulted in a monumental collapse in 2010. While the surefire Hall of Famer seemed to discover the fountain of youth in '09 with 33 touchdown passes, seven interceptions and a career-high passer rating of 107.2, '10 resulted in 11 TDs, 19 INTs and a 69.9 -- not to mention a 6-10 disaster in terms of wins and losses.
As for Hudson, he is eventually going to be a starter at one of the interior positions along the Chiefs' offensive line, with many scouts feeling he fits best at center despite playing primarily guard for the Seminoles. While Kansas City ran the ball tremendously a season ago thanks to the tailback tandem of Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones, starting center Casey Wiegmann recently turned 38 years old and can't have much left in the tank.
No question about, the Ponder selection was considered a shocking one for most of the Minnesota fans and even a disappointment at first, as several talent evaluators figured the Colleyville, Texas, native to be a second-round prospect. Still, the Vikings were totally desperate for a signal caller once the Favre experiment blew up in their faces, plus it wasn't considered an especially deep draft at QB this year. But Ponder spent the majority of the lockout learning the intricacies of a professional playbook from fellow former 'Nole Chris Weinke at IMG Academies in Bradenton, Florida, which gave both his new teammates and his new fans a great first impression.
Nevertheless the Vikes did make a trade for six-time Pro Bowler Donovan McNabb once the lockout was lifted and plan to start the veteran in the season opener Sept. 11 at San Diego, so Ponder is going to have to hold a clipboard for a little while.
"Christian Ponder has been just about what the Vikings expected: reliable, mature and developing," says Tim Yotter, who is the publisher of VikingUpdate.com. "At one point, there was the idea that Ponder might be the starter for the regular-season opener, but as the NFL lockout wiped out one offseason practice after another, that became more unrealistic for a rookie, no matter the intelligence. Trading for Donovan McNabb means that Ponder will be the backup -- likely the No. 2 man, but still battling Joe Webb for that -- once the regular season starts. So far, Ponder has looked more comfortable outside the pocket when he's in game situations, but there have only been a few days when it didn't look like he progressed in practices. He's been outstanding to work with from a media perspective and will undoubtedly win over fans if his on-field acumen matches his off-field presence."
Unlike Ponder, Hudson received first-round grades from a lot of front-office types but ended up sliding to the second half of Round 2. Even though the 6-2, 299-pounder was one of the most decorated offensive linemen in FSU history, he was believed to be a bit on the lean side and had to put on a fair amount of weight throughout the evaluation process prior to draft weekend. While he can probably be successful in a zone-blocking scheme because of his enviable athleticism, there are questions as to whether or not he can handle those 330-pound behemoth defensive tackles he'll continually have to face on Sundays in man-on-man situations.
It doesn't appear as if Kansas City is counting on Hudson to be a starter from Day 1, but it may not be long before he gets a promotion.
"Hudson has been a big surprise at Chiefs training camp," says Nick Athan, who is the publisher of WarpaintIllustrated.com. "He's already pushing for playing time and has seen action at center and guard. In two preseason games, Hudson has more than held his own against a couple of solid defensive lines in Tampa Bay and Baltimore. Though Hudson isn't quite viewed as a possible starter, he's certainly pushing 17-year center Casey Wiegmann for first-team status. Thus far, Hudson hasn't been fazed by the NFL speed, and it's possible that by midseason he could be inserted into Kansas City's starting lineup."
Back in Tallahassee, the program is ready to move on from Ponder since new starting quarterback E.J. Manuel has all the tools to be an instant success, although Hudson would be welcomed back with open arms due to the injuries coach Jimbo Fisher has witnssed up front in preseason camp.
John Crist is the editor-in-chief of NoleDigest.com, a Heisman Trophy voter and a member of the Football Writers Association of America.
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