Oakland Raiders quarterback Christian Ponder at work during the team's offseason program. Photo by Tony Gonzales/Raiders.com.
*Originally published April 3, 2015
Updated June 18, 2015
Earlier this week, ESPN's John Clayton ranked the NFL's top backup quarterbacks and had high praise for Oakland Raiders QB Christian Ponder.
8. Christian Ponder, Oakland Raiders
Ponder makes the list because he's averaged 23.5 points per game during his starts. He falls behind Glennon because he had the benefits of having Adrian Peterson in the Vikings backfield. - John Clayton
When NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell called Florida State QB Christian Ponder's name on the first day of the 2011 NFL Draft, it wasn't a surprise. The fact the Minnesota Vikings made him the 12th overall pick? That came as a surprise. Ponder was actually the fourth quarterback taken in the 2011 Draft as Carolina selected the mercurial Cam Newton No. 1 overall, Tennessee surprised everyone with Jake Locker, and Jacksonville took a flyer on Missouri trigger man Blaine Gabbert.
Newton won the Heisman Trophy and a National Championship with Auburn, while Ponder and his Florida State Seminoles finished 17th in the AP poll at the end of the 2010 season. In Week 6 of his rookie year, Ponder relieved veteran Donovan McNabb and started every game the rest of the season. He threw for 1,853 yards, 13 TDs and 13 INTs. The Vikings went 3-13 and finished last in their division.
Check out who's currently on the roster for the Oakland Raiders.
In 2012, Ponder earned the starting job, started all 16 games, and the Vikings went 10-6 and earned a Wild Card berth. The second-year signal caller threw for 2,935 yards, 18 TDs and 12 INTs. Ponder was injured at the end of the season and QB Joe Webb got the call in a 24-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers in an NFC Wild Card playoff game.
He became a free agent after the 2014 season and began the process of finding a new team. "I heard from a few teams but only took a visit out to Oakland; Oakland was my first visit," Ponder said. "I fell in love with it, fell in love with the area. I love the whole staff so I worked out a contract right then and there and signed. I didn't want to go anywhere else."
Ponder's offensive coordinator with the Vikings? Bill Musgrave.
Musgrave replaced Greg Olson as the Raiders offensive coordinator in January after serving as the Philadelphia Eagles quarterbacks coach. Musgrave presided over Mark Sanchez's resurgence after replacing the injured Nick Foles. With Musgrave as Minnesota's offensive coordinator, the Vikings were consistently in the Top 10 in the NFL in rushing, which certainly helped the young quarterback.
Ponder and Musgrave are now reunited with the Raiders. "I spent three years with Coach Musgrave in Minnesota. Sounds like it's going to be a fun offense to run," Ponder said. "I enjoyed my time with him when he was out there. He's a coach that cares about the players and the quarterbacks, he's challenging, has high expectations for everyone, he's a very intelligent coach, I'm excited I already have that familiarity. Seems like it's going to be a great quarterback room to be a part of."
Couple his experience in the recently hotly-contested NFC North with his familiarity with offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, and Ponder fits well in the Raiders quarterback room. With the release of QB Matt Schaub, Ponder instantly became the most senior member of the quarterback room. Derek Carr just turned 24, third-year man Matt McGloin is 25, and Ponder is now 27. Ponder has played in 38 games with 36 starts while Carr has played in and started 16 and McGloin has appeared in 8 games with 6 starts. The Raiders added undrafted free agent Cody Fajardo immediately after the 2015 NFL Draft.
"It's an interesting change. I think I've always been in a quarterback room where there was a guy older than me, it's only going to be my fifth year, and to be the veteran it's kind of funny. Time flies, it'll be a fun role to have," Ponder said. "As a rookie to go in and compete and beat out a guy like Matt Schaub and play the way [Derek Carr] did is exciting for him and for the Raiders. It'll just be my role to help him out a little bit and see him improve. I think the Oakland fans should be excited."
Last season, Ponder took a back seat in Minnesota. He used his time on the bench to his advantage. "I wish I was the one out there playing, but having some time to sit back and be on the bench and have my body heal up, I feel like I'm healthy now, I'm in shape, and I'm ready to get out there and compete," Ponder said.
Although realizing he joined the team to back up Derek Carr, Ponder did take quite a few reps in place of Carr who was injured during much of the offseason program.
"It helps. It helps with getting to know my new teammates and being out there, getting used to how receivers run routes and how we call things. This offense is a little different than what I ran in Minnesota," said Ponder of the extra reps during a May 26 media session.
That being said, Ponder is embracing his role with the Raiders.
"My job, I understand, is the backup and I'm here to help Derek and help this team out. It is exciting for me to be out there taking first-team reps, but I know that this is Derek's team right now," said Ponder. "But I am bringing a competitive nature to it. I know Derek is a very competitive guy, and so is Matt McGloin. Bringing some competition in the room only helps all of us."
The Raiders added T J'Marcus Webb to the roster this offseason. Webb and Ponder played together in Minnesota. New Raiders C Rodney Hudson played with Ponder at Florida State. Ponder said that both players will add quite a bit to the Raiders offensive line.
"J'Marcus is big, he's physical, he's a smart player, he's going to be a good player," Ponder said. "I had a lot of time with Rodney at Florida State. Talk about a great player, smart, very physical, works hard, has a great work ethic. He's a big catch for Oakland to land, and he's going to be a key part of this offense and this line."
Ponder is excited about the transition to his new home. Ponder and his wife, ESPN reporter Sam Ponder, are in the process of finding a place to live and have been active on social media with regard to the move. "This is one of the most desirable places to live in the world, it's a great place to live and we're looking forward to it," Ponder said.
Christian Ponder may be new to California, the Bay Area and the Raider Nation, but his enthusiasm for his new digs and his existing relationships with pieces the Raiders have put in place, make Ponder seem right at home already.