No trade offers on table, Vikings draft Christian Ponder at No. 12
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- First, Jake Locker went to Tennessee. Then, Jacksonville traded up to steal Blaine Gabbert.
That didn't stop the Minnesota Vikings from taking a quarterback in the first round of the NFL Draft on Thursday night.
Unable to find a trade partner and concerned about the Washington Redskins four picks later, the Vikings selected Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder 12th overall -- a move vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman admitted was motivated by the team's need at the most important position.
"When Washington traded back to 16, and knowing that they potentially could need a quarterback there, that we weren't going to go beyond that point," Spielman said. "We tried to look at some options about moving back in this draft. We did not have any takers when we were on the clock at the top.
"So, we're put in a situation then and we have a couple good players at other positions on our board, but we have a quarterback graded right up there with those other positions, and you very rarely get a chance to take a swing at a young quarterback and we felt, we sat there and made a final decision that it was a no-brainer for us to take Christian Ponder."
Known as much for intelligence as production as a three-year starter for the Seminoles, Ponder (6-foot-2, 227 pounds) completed 61.8% of his college passes (596-of-965) for 6,872 yards and 49 touchdowns with 30 interceptions.
The 23-year-old Texan battled a series of forearm and elbow injuries in his final season but impressed the Vikings at the Senior Bowl, and a two-day visit with Spielman, coach Leslie Frazier, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and quarterbacks coach Craig Johnson surrounding his pro day helped to seal him as a first-round candidate.
"I don't think we had to sell one another on Christian," Frazier said. "We were excited about him all along. When we went down to the pro day and had a chance to spend time with him -- we went out to dinner, we talked a lot, we did a lot of things on the football field -- I think we all came away from that visit saying, 'Man, if that guy is there, it'd be hard to pass him up.' Fortunately for us, he ended up being there at 12."
There were no surprises in the top five. Auburn quarterback Cam Newton went No. 1 to Carolina, followed by Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller (No. 2 to Denver), Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus (No. 3, Buffalo), Georgia receiver A.J. Green (No. 4, Cincinnati) and LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson.
Then, Atlanta swung a megadeal, trading five picks -- Nos. 27, 59 and 124 this year, plus first- and fourth-rounders next year -- to move up to No. 6 and take Alabama receiver Julio Jones. San Francisco pulled the next surprise by taking Missouri end Aldon Smith at No. 7, and Tennessee took Washington quarterback Jake Locker at No. 8 instead of Gabbert.
"Rick has taken us through a thousand different scenarios over the last few weeks," Frazier said, "and I don't think anything happened in those first 11 picks that we didn't anticipate or hadn't talked about at some point. So, there was nothing that made us take a deep breath along the way."
As expected, Dallas took tackle Tyron Smith at No. 9. That left one more quarterback-needy team, Washington, which traded down six spots for Jacksonville's second-round pick -- and the Jaguars rescued Gabbert from his free fall at No. 10.
Spielman acknowledged the Vikings discussed moving up for Gabbert once Tennessee took Locker, but the team wasn't willing to part with its second-round pick, especially without a third-rounder. So, once Houston took Wisconsin end J.J. Watt at No. 11, the Vikings went on the clock -- and the phone didn't ring.
Asked if Ponder was a reach, Spielman said, "No, not off our board it wasn't. We felt very confident where we graded him. We graded him that he was worthy of that spot."
From Ponder's campus workout on March 16:
• 40-yard dash: 4.72 seconds.
• 10-yard dash: 1.64 seconds.
• 20-yard dash: 2.75 seconds.
• 20-yard shuttle: 4.06 seconds.
• Three-cone drill: 6.93 seconds.
• Vertical jump: 30 inches.
• Broad jump: 8 feet, 10 inches.
• Bench press: 15 reps of 225 pounds.
• Arm length: 31 5/8 inches.
• Hands: 10 1/8 inches.