Seminole Offensive Stars Earn Top Draft Grades; Defensive Prospects Have Work To Do

Some draft news came out yesterday about several Florida State prospects.  First, National Scouting, a company that contracts with NFL teams to provide scouting reports on players released its grades from last year's draft of Juniors who could have gone pro.  That means these players will be seniors this year.  And that means Christian Ponder.  Second, Wes Bunting, a former scout who now serves as the scouting writer for the National Football Post, reviewed FSU yesterday in a series he is doing on the top draft prospects of each college team.  

Let's start with Ponder.  This may surprise some of you, but Ponder tied for the 7th best available college senior, and the best QB along with Jake Locker (who Mel Kiler is touting as the best thing since Elway).   That grade of 6.7 is very impressive I am told.  Why did Ponder do so well?  Bunting has an idea:

A thick, well-built quarterback with above-average girth through his upper body.

Showcases good mechanics and clean footwork, quickly getting out from under center and maintaining his balance in his drop.  Is a bright kid who does a great job keeping the football cocked and getting the ball out of his hands quickly. Displays a good mental alarm clock and a quick, compact release, which allows him to consistently beat the pressure.

Ahem.  Oh, hello coach Fisher, QB guru.  Ponder didn't have these attributes when he arrived at FSU.

Is a solid athlete for the position who does a nice job stepping up in the pocket, buying time for himself with his feet and has the ability to create with his legs once he breaks containment. Exhibits impressive ball skills, handles the football well on play fakes and looks really comfortable anytime he's asked to get outside the pocket and make throws on the move.

No doubt Ponder's experience on an option offense as a high-schooler helped his ball skills.

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.

Translation:  his arm is plenty good.  If you didn't know, Jimbo Fisher is a freak about a quarterback's hands and how the hands allow the QB to impart touch and english to the ball.

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.  

Ponder was a 3* recruit out of a run-heavy offense.  His development here has been pretty incredible.  Credit Fisher for putting him in an offense that develops him both under center and from the gun (aka not Urban Meyer's attack).

Now, lacks great arm strength when asked to zip the football outside the numbers and can't be late with a throw.  However, because of his rhythm and anticipation skills, he still has the ability to make all the throws required of him at the next level, as long as he's on time.

So basically he has a good but not great arm.  But only 3 or 4 NFL QBs can get away with throwing late, and that's not a good habit to get into anyway (see Brett Farve, Akili Smith, Jamarcus Russell, and every other QB that was drafted based solely on arm strength).

Displays a good understanding of the pass game and does a nice job quickly recognizing coverages and working his way one side of the field to another.

This has definitely improved in his two years here.  

However, needs to do a better job looking off safeties when attempting bucket throws down the field. His football has a tendency to hang on him a bit down the field, giving rangy defensive backs a chance to make a play on the throw.

I think this comes from the Clemson game when Ponder had the cracked ribs (interception along the sideline that Bowden called for and angered everyone).  

Also, when working his way back across the field on his progressions, he will occasionally throw blind into coverage.

We discussed this last year.  It looks like he throws blind, but in college, Ponder knows where the other defenders are without looking because he has a great understanding of coverages, as Bunting noted above.  In the NFL, coverages are more difficult, but there are still only 11 defenders.  And it's not like Ponder relies on throwing blind more than once every few games.  

Nevertheless, the guy has come a long way since 2008 and he knows how to handle adversity, work through it and come out on the other side better because of it.

Indeed.  Ponder was undraftable based on his 2008 performance.  But NFL scouts probably aren't expected to realize he was playing behind the youngest line in the country.  All they saw in '08 was a kid running for his life with no pass protection.

Impression: The kind of quarterback I love. Isn't the most physically blessed prospect, but is a bright, hard-working kid who has a great feel for the pass game and relies more so on his accuracy, anticipation and rhythm. Looks like a guy who can end up as a very solid NFL-caliber signal-caller at the next level.

Other QBs who rely on accuracy, anticipation, and rhythm:  Joe Montana and Drew Brees.  

Flashing back to the Summer of 2009,  I have to say we here at TomahawkNation feel pretty vindicated.  Elsewhere, many thought Ponder couldn't play.  Sure, We said that Ponder's struggles as a sophomore were due to injury and absolutely no pass protection from the youngest offensive line in the country.  In '08, Ponder had no expectation of protection.  In '09 his line grew up and turned into one of the best in the country.  He had good protection and showed his true skill.  And now he's a likely 1st rounder.

Bunting also evaluated Rodney Hudson, Ryan McMahon, Markus White, Kendal Smith, and Ochuko Jenije.  

Scouting grades were also given to Hudson (6.1, 29th, "one of the better zone blocking guards to come around in a while"), and Markus White (undraftable).  

What do you think?  What senior prospect will step up his game and become a draft pick?

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