The Christian Ponder Lesson For Quarterback Recruits: Choose Pro-Style Offenses

The Carolina Panthers are poised to give $60 million dollars to a quarterback who couldn't even remember a single play he called last season at Auburn.  $60 million to a kid who has never had to read a defense, take a snap, call an audible, or get his team into the right protection.  The Jacksonville Jaguars spent the 10th pick of the draft on Blaine Gabbert, who while physically talented, ran an offense at Missouri that Jon Gruden described as "catch and pitch", meaning he threw the ball as soon as it was snapped to him, typically to a very open receiver in the spread.  Like the Panthers with Newton, the Jaguars have no idea if Blaine Gabbert can do any of those things.

A combined $100 million in guaranteed money for guys who have only proven that they can throw hard and run?  The NFL is full of washouts who can throw really far and run fast.  

Yet Christian Ponder, drafted by the Minnesota Vikings with pick 12, will make only slightly less than Gabbert.  Why?

Jimbo Fisher on Ponder and the Vikings (From Jim Lamar's twitter)

Fisher said he predicted today that it would be the Vikings. 'They fell in love w/ his ability to understand protections & make reads.'

Fisher on @cponder7 & what Vikings liked: 'Consistency, athleticism and accuracy.

Playing quarterback in the NFL is about reading defenses, not turning the ball over, being aware of the third and fourth option, and studying the playbook.  It's about having total control of an offense that only comes with the freakish understanding of the playbook and the concepts.

College football is essentially a free minor league system for the NFL.  But there is one major difference between the free minor league system that is college football and minor league baseball.  Minor league baseball teams are about development only.  Winning is not important.  College teams have to balance recruiting with winning.  And for most positions, this is just fine.  But many quarterbacks are being failed by the spread system.

Yes, Newton, Locker, and Gabbert were guys who spent most or all of their career in the spread.  But as noted above, those guys are physical freaks.  Nothing they did in the spread offense helped their NFL stock.

Why would a major quarterback recruit willingly choose to play in an offense that is openly listed as a detractor from his stock?  Why would he willingly choose to play in a system that does not develop his skills?  Newton, Gabbert and Locker all had the freakish physical abilities before they entered college.  

Major league baseball teams would never bring a guy up from the minors if he had zero grasp of the fundamentals of the game.  But in drafting these pure-potential quarterbacks, that is exactly what these NFL teams are doing.

Want another baseball analogy for these spread offenses?  Say a team has a pitcher with a good fastball.  But he can't throw the curveball or the changeup worth a damn.  In baseball, the minor league team will force the kid to work on those pitches and improve.  But if a spread offensive coordinator ran your minor league baseball team, he'd let the kid dominate with the fastball and ignore the off-speed stuff all game.  Sure, it might win in the minors.  But it really hampers the kid's development for the next level.  

Spread and gimmick proponents will argue that there is no duty to develop a quarterback, only to win.  Fair enough, but at some point recruits will wake up and realize that playing in an offense that hurts their development and ultimately costs them money is a bad life decision.

These teams are gambling that these guys can learn in a single off-season or two what it took the college pro-style quarterbacks three or four years to master.  And the competition against which the spread guys must perfect their craft for the first time is much tougher than what the college pro-style quarterbacks were able to work against during the learning process.  

That's not to say that any of these quarterbacks will bust.  But it is undeniable that they are severely behind the 8-ball entering the league in terms of development.

I can guarantee you that Christian Ponder would not have been a high first-round pick if he played in the spread.  Ponder isn't the physical freak that the other three are.  If he couldn't take a snap, call a play, run a huddle, go to the line and identify the reads and call the protections, and audible his team into the right play while showing a mastery of pro-style concepts, he would probably be a third-rounder.  His ability to do things that translate to the NFL game, thanks to FSU's coaching and development, got him paid today.

And you can bet Jimbo Fisher will remind recruits that Ponder is the 11th quarterback he's put in the league.  EJ Manuel will almost assuredly make 12.  You can bet Jimbo is already out there selling his wares to #13.

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