Receiver development a trait of the QB greats

The elite quarterbacks in the league have all been able to raise the performance of favorite receivers. With two new receivers, that will be the task ahead for Christian Ponder.

There is debate about what makes a quarterback elite. Because the NFL is based on statistics – yards, touchdowns, passer rating, wins, etc. – the measure of a quarterback is based largely on numbers. Nobody knows what the record of the Vikings is all-time in games Adrian Peterson starts or Chad Greenway starts. The NFL officially keeps stats on head coaches and quarterbacks for their win-loss record in games where they're in charge.

There are so many comparative statistics that can be kept as it concerns the quarterback position, but, the Vikings are hoping Christian Ponder has the rare quality of quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Packers QBs Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. It won't show up on a stat sheet … unless you know how to properly read a stat sheet. The most important stat a QB has with his coaching staff is the number of receivers he develops.

Wes Welker and Randy Moss were treading water in their careers before they hooked up with Brady. Both set records in New England. Peyton Manning helped a half-dozen receivers make millions of dollars because he developed their strengths and made them stars.

But no franchise has done a better job of developing wide receiver talent over the last 20 years than Green Bay. Don't take our word for it. Let the numbers speak for themselves.

When Favre took over, he had an incumbent go-to stud in Sterling Sharpe. Sharpe was the security blanket early on for Favre, just as Percy Harvin was and Greg Jennings is expected to be for Ponder. But, presented with one incumbent star, it was Favre's job to develop unproven talent with upside. Perhaps nobody did it better.

During Favre's first year with Green Bay in 1992, the Packers used a third-round draft pick on Robert Brooks. Injuries derailed his career, but, in 1995, he had 102 receptions for 1,497 yards and 13 TDs. If not for injuries, he could have been huge – and was the first developmental project of Favre. He wouldn't be the last.

In 1995, the same year Brooks blew up, the Packers used a third-round pick on Antonio Freeman. From 1996-2000, he became the primary receiver in the offense because he was a go-to guy for Favre. They built a QB-receiver rapport that paid off.

It was one thing for Favre to develop a third-round wide receiver – when's the last time the Vikings did that? – but he went deeper in 1994. He was charged with developing a sixth-rounder from local D-III college Wisconsin-LaCrosse. His name was Bill Schroeder. He would go on to have three seasons with more than 900 receiving yards and he was a long-term project who made a name for himself because he was developed.

In 1999, the Packers used the 213th pick of the draft on Donald Driver. Not much more needs to be said about that topic because his body of work speaks for itself. You don't have to know a lot about football to know who Donald Driver is.

Javon Walker finally gave Favre a first-round pick as a developmental gift. Walker was a star, but got a star's mentality at the height of the diva era of the early 2000s. He was successful on the field, but something of a pain in the neck (or regions to the south of the neck) and was eventually traded.

Favre's final project came in 2006 – a year after Green Bay drafted Rodgers as Favre's eventual replacement – when the Packers used a second-round draft pick on Greg Jennings. He would become Rodgers' version of Sterling Sharpe – the young veteran who could be his early go-to receiver. When the whole Favre dust-up kicked in, it became Rodgers' job to follow in Favre's footsteps – not in terms of numbers, but in terms of developing receivers on his own.

Not much more needs to be said about what Jennings (a second-rounder) accomplished with Rodgers. Or 2007 third-rounder James Jones. Or 2008 second-rounder Jordy Nelson. Or 2011 second-rounder Randall Cobb. Rodgers' track record has been similar to Favre's.

With the exception of Walker, none of the receivers Green Bay has developed has been a first-round pick. They consistently take wide receivers they regard highly but will have to fall to them and their QB has developed them into solid NFL receivers – all whom have either already made lucrative livings in the NFL or will soon cash that big check in the next couple of years.

As the Vikings enter 2013, Bill Musgrave and the offensive coaching staff are looking to Ponder to help develop Cordarrelle Patterson, who is going to be under the microscope early and often in his career. But they also want him to develop Jarius Wright and Greg Childs and build a rapport with Jerome Simpson. If two of those four emerge as playmakers, Ponder will start building his own QB legacy – eye-popping numbers withstanding.

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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