Mackey: Of Christian Ponder, the modern NFL QB... and Tommy Maddox
Get the 1500 ESPN SportsWire delivered to your inbox daily, and keep up with all the news in Twin Cities Sports
We are in a golden age of quarterback play in the NFL.
Quarterbacks are throwing the ball more than ever, rules cater toward keeping quarterbacks healthy, and offenses are increasingly ramping up pace of play by using the no-huddle.
In 1990, exactly one quarterback threw for 4,000 yards (Warren Moon), and one quarterback posted a passer rating above 97.0. In 2012, 11 quarterbacks threw for 4,000 yards, and seven quarterbacks posted passer ratings over 97.0.
In addition, there has been an influx of mobile quarterbacks who also have big, accurate arms - RGIII, Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson, Cam Newton.
If you don't have a top-level quarterback, chances are your team will lag behind.
How good is the "average" quarterback in 2013?
This is fascinating.
Middle-of-the-pack quarterbacks in today's NFL - the guys who rank 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th in passer rating - are pretty damn good compared to that same "median" 10, 15 years ago.
The "mid-pack" quarterbacks (or "median," if you will) according to passer rating in 2012 were Eli Manning (87.2), Cam Newton (86.2), Carson Palmer (85.3), Ryan Fitzpatrick (83.3), Sam Bradford (82.6) and Josh Freeman (81.6).
The "mid-pack" quarterbacks in 2012 according to FootballOutsiders.com - which takes into account game context, opposition, dropped passes, etc. - were Cam Newton, Alex Smith, Sam Bradford, Joe Flacco, Carson Palmer and Andrew Luck.
Think about that.
The "average" quarterbacks in 1996 were Gus Frerotte (79.3), Dave Krieg (76.3) and Stan Humphries (76.7). The "average" quarterbacks in 2002 were Tommy Maddox, Jay Fiedler and Brian Griese.
Now, guys like Joe Flacco, Josh Freeman and Cam Newton are mid-pack. Freeman threw for 4,000 yards and 27 touchdowns last season.
Where did past 10 Super Bowl winning QBs rank in passer rating?
2012: Joe Flacco (12th)
2011: Eli Manning (7th)
2010: Aaron Rodgers (3rd)
2009: Drew Brees (1st)
2008: Ben Roethlisberger (24th)
2007: Eli Manning (25th)
2006: Peyton Manning (1st)
2005: Ben Roethlisberger (3rd)
2004: Tom Brady (9th)
2003: Tom Brady (10th)
There are obviously multiple facets to winning a Super Bowl, but seven of the last 10 Super Bowl winning quarterbacks ranked in the top 10 in regular season passer rating. The other three - Flacco, Roethlisberger in '08 and Eli in '07 - stepped up significantly in the postseason.
It's possible, if not likely, that all of the above quarterbacks will wind up in the Hall of Fame (Flacco the unlikeliest of the bunch).
So, how good does Ponder need to be?
Christian Ponder completed 62% of his passes last season (13th in NFL) for 2,935 yards (25th), 18 touchdowns (23rd), 12 interceptions, 6.1 yards per attempt (31st) and an 81.2 passer rating (21st).
We can debate whether those numbers can be attributed to poor quarterback play, sub-par wide receivers, or some combination of both. But that performance clearly needs to improve if the Vikings are going to take a step forward this season.
How good does Ponder need to be?
Well, if the goal is to win a Super Bowl, he apparently needs to be a Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback.
But that's probably asking a bit too much.
In reality, Ponder needs to be closer to the top 10 in passer rating - or closer to the top 10 per Football Outsiders, or Pro Football Focus - than he was last year. That means completing more passes down the field (thus increasing yards per attempt), throwing for more touchdowns, and doing both of these while completing well over 60% of his throws. Guys like Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson and Kyle Rudolph should, in theory, help improve Ponder's numbers.
For the Vikings to take the next step - win in the playoffs, be mentioned among Super Bowl contenders - Ponder needs to be the 2012 version of Andy Dalton: 3,669 yards, 27 touchdowns, 16 interceptions, 6.9 yards per attempt and an 87.4 passer rating (13th).
Maybe with fewer interceptions.
Or stumble through the regular season, get to the playoffs, and hit the gas pedal like Flacco, Eli and Roethlisberger have in years past.
Or just have Adrian Peterson to shatter Eric Dickerson's all-time rushing record. And run like that again in the postseason as well.