The Vikings are officially entering Year 2 of the Christian Ponder era. While most assume that Year 2 for Ponder started back in September, with Sunday's game at Washington, Ponder has made 16 NFL starts. To look at his numbers through one full season, a lot of the Vikings passing offensive production comes into focus – as well as making much clearer how poorly the Vikings pass offense performed under Donovan McNabb.
To look at Ponder's numbers through his first 16 games, he has shown significant improvement. Overall, through 16 career starts, Ponder has completed 302 of 501 passes for 3,287 yards, 21 touchdowns, 17 interceptions and a passer rating of 79.5. But that tells just half the story.
Through six games this season, his numbers are up significantly in every statistical category. If he remains at his current pace, he will finish 2012 completing 384 of 560 passes for 3,824 yards, 21 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and a passer rating of 92.4 – all numbers that would be viewed as a success for a second-year quarterback.
Of the top seven receivers that were on the Vikings' roster in 2011, only two of them had better reception production under McNabb – Visanthe Shiancoe and Adrian Peterson. However, Peterson's role in the passing game was merely as a dump-off receiver and Shiancoe is no longer with the Vikings.
The primary beneficiaries of the quarterback change have been Percy Harvin and Kyle Rudolph. Both of whom have seen their production spike with Ponder as opposed to McNabb.
Here are the 2011 numbers for the top Vikings receivers based on the games played with Ponder at QB and the games played with McNabb. Players are listed by receptions, yards and touchdowns
Percy Harvin – (10 games with Ponder) 62-706-6; (6 games with McNabb) – 25-261-0. With McNabb, Harvin averaged just four catches and 43 yards a game while not scoring a receiving touchdown. With Ponder, he averaged six catches for 71 yards and scored six TDs. It would seem that his production explosion this season actually began last year when the switch was made to Ponder.
Michael Jenkins – (5 games with Ponder) 14-245-1; (6 games with McNabb) 13-221-2. His production didn't change all that much, but he went from averaging two catches a game with McNabb to three with Ponder.
Visanthe Shiancoe – (10 games with Ponder) 20-250-2; (6 games with McNabb) – 16-159-1. His production dropped significantly, but his average per catch jumped by more than 2.5 yards per reception. It seems clear, however, that he was a favorite of McNabb more than he was Ponder, which may explain why the Vikings didn't re-sign him when he became a free agent. But, given John Carlson's minimal production, perhaps Shank would have been the cheaper, more effective alternative given his skills as a blocker. But, with the Vikings' youth movement, Shiancoe didn't fit the M.O. of what they were looking for.
Devin Aromashodu – (10 games with Ponder) 22-338-0; (6 games with McNabb) 4-130-1. Another player who blossomed with Ponder at QB, he went from being a one-trick pony who was just a deep threat to a more rounded receiver.
Kyle Rudolph – (9 games with Ponder) 15-139-3; (6 games with McNabb) 9-118-0. The receptions per game didn't change all that much, but Rudolph became much more of a red zone threat and that has carried over into 2012, as he has become Ponder's go-to target when throwing into the end zone.
Toby Gerhart – (9 games with Ponder) 19-136-3; (6 games with McNabb) 4-54-0. Other than Harvin, no player saw a more significant increase than Gerhart. Almost nonexistent with McNabb, averaging less than one reception a game, not only did his production per game more than triple, he caught three touchdowns, which tied him for second on the team in terms of touchdowns.
Adrian Peterson – (6 games with Ponder) 7-90-1; (6 games with McNabb) 11-49-0. While A.P. caught more passes with McNabb, it seems clear he was merely a check-down option at receiver – averaging less than 4.5 yards per reception. His increased yardage production with Ponder at the helm has carried over into the 2012 season and he, too, has become more productive.
When you factor in the receiving stats from the first six games of 2012 with what the Vikings accomplished last year, the six players that were on the team for both seasons have all seemed to find a role for themselves. Harvin is the main man, having caught 111 passes for 1,246 yards and seven touchdowns teamed up with Ponder. Rudolph has become the primary scoring threat in close, catching 40 passes for 364 yards and eight touchdowns in 15 games. Jenkins has been a decent No. 2 receiver, catching 33 passes for 447 yards and two touchdowns in 11 games, numbers that would translate to 48-650-3 if extrapolated over 16 games. Peterson has become more of a threat as well, catching 27 passes for 219 yards and one TD in 12 games. Aromashodu has become a utility receiver, catching 32 passes for 489 yards, but, despite his billing as a big-play deep speed, he has yet to catch a touchdown with Ponder as his QB. Gerhart has also been a valued role player, catching 27 passes for 199 yards and three touchdowns in 15 games.
With the additions of Jerome Simpson, Carlson and Rhett Ellison to the passing game, Ponder has even more targets as he enters his "second year" as an NFL starter. The hope was that Ponder would provide the Vikings with a more rounded offense than McNabb did in six games as a starter or Brett Favre did in an injury-plagued 2010 season. If you look at the numbers and the pass distribution, it appears his first year was a success and he is only scratching the surface of his potential.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Ponder productive in "first year" as starter
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