The Vikings have made 22 first-round selections in the NFL draft since 2000 and that figure will increase to 24 (provided there are no trades) a week from Thursday when the opening round is conducted with team personnel working from their homes because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Those 22 first-round picks cover 20 drafts and bring back some good and bad memories for the Vikings and their fans alike. Over the next five days, we will unveil memorable first rounds since 2000. Three will involve Rick Spielman, who has been an important part of the draft process since 2007 and has had final say since becoming general manager in 2012.
We started with the Vikings’ first-round picks in 2012. Today we bring you Part II with …
THE YEAR: 2011
The situation: The Vikings were coming off a 6-10 season during which Brad Childress had been fired and this time Brett Favre was going to stay retired. Leslie Frazier had taken over as coach and Rick Spielman was vice president of player personnel, meaning both men were given power in final roster decisions. Frazier wanted a veteran quarterback and Spielman was looking toward the future. The NFL lockout that offseason wiped out OTAs and minicamps, making it more difficult to get new players up to speed. The draft did go on as scheduled and Spielman took Christian Ponder out of Florida State with the 12th overall pick, making him the fourth QB taken in the round behind Cam Newton (No. 1 to Carolina), Jake Locker (No. 8 to Tennessee) and Blaine Gabbert (No. 10 to Jacksonville). When the NFL did return from the lockout, the Vikings also completed a trade with Washington for Donovan McNabb to be the starter and the mentor to Ponder.
How it worked out: It was clear from early on that McNabb was finished and during a Week 6 Sunday night blowout loss in Chicago the decision was made to switch to Ponder. The Vikings went 3-13 that season and while Ponder showed promise at times he threw 13 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions in going 2-8 in 10 starts as a rookie. Ponder helped the Vikings rally for a season-opening overtime victory over Jacksonville in 2012 and that September he led the NFL in completion percentage (68%). The Vikings were 5-2 before Ponder began to struggle and the Vikings lost back-to-back games to Tampa Bay and Seattle and dropped four of five overall. Minnesota won its last four games to make the playoffs, as Ponder threw three touchdown passes and had a career-best 120.2 passer rating in a 37-34 victory over Green Bay in the regular-season finale. That set up a first-round meeting with the Packers at Lambeau Field but Ponder had a triceps bruise that kept him from playing and gave Joe Webb the start. The 2012 season would be the only one in which Ponder started all 16 regular-season games. Any hope generated during that season was quickly lost during an 0-3 start in 2013. Ponder started nine games, as Matt Cassell (six starts) and even Josh Freeman (one start) got a chance. That season proved to be Frazier’s last as the Vikings’ coach. Ponder played in only two games with one start (a 42-10 loss at Green Bay) in 2014 under new coach Mike Zimmer, but the Vikings had taken quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in the first round of that draft and they did not pick up the fifth-year option on Ponder’s contract.
The verdict: Of the four quarterbacks the Vikings have taken in the first round of the draft in their existence –Tommy Kramer (1977), Daunte Culpepper (1999) and Bridgewater are the others — Ponder is easily the biggest bust. After leaving Minnesota following the 2014 season, Ponder bounced from Oakland to Denver to San Francisco (never playing in a game for the three) before his career came to an end. Ponder joins guys like Troy Willamson, Erasmus James and Laquon Treadwell as the Vikings’ biggest first-round busts since 2000. The fact he was a quarterback makes it hurt just a little more.