MOBILE AL - JANUARY 29: Quarterback Christian Ponder #7 of the South Team passes over defensive lineman Pierre Allen #95 North Team during the fourth quarter of the Under Armour Senior Bowl on January 29 2011 at Ladd-Pebbles Stadium in Mobile Alabama. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images for Under Armour)
The Bengals need a quarterback. Carson Palmer is in California and I'll bet anybody my next paycheck (which is exactly zero dollars) that, when the season starts, he'll still be in California, sitting on his couch, watching the NFL on his $80 million dollar TV. When it comes to the war between Palmer's will and Mike Brown's ego, Palmer's will is going to win by losing. He'll retire, possibly placing his future in the NFL in jeopardy, and Brown will get nothing for him, at least not before the 2011 season.
The lockout complicates things further. The Bengals can't make a trade for a guy like Kevin Kolb, who could come into Cincinnati and be the next No. 9. They're going to have to draft somebody new, and that new guy is going to be thrust into a starting role to lead an offense with a new coordinator, a sub-par offensive line and an extremely young receiving corps. The Bengals probably won't be able to sign a guy to be a mentor -- a John Kitna to Carson Palmer. There will likely be no Donovan McNabb or even a Brett Favre (I hate myself for writing that) taking the snaps for a season in stripes. Hell, the Bengals won't even be able to pay Vinny Testaverde to drive his rascal around on the field for a while. Whoever they draft is going to be on his own and that quarterback is going to have to win.
Because of the tough situation, I believe that person has to be Florida State's Christian Ponder.
Before we go any deeper, let's consider Atlanta's situation prior to Matt Ryan's emergence as the future of the franchise. Mike Vick was arrested, ending his stay in Atlanta and causing the Falcons to scramble to find a replacement for one of the most electrifying athletes playing in the NFL, and the face of the franchise. They drafted Matt Ryan and then had to completely re-tool the offense to work around Ryan's completely different skill set. A talented but immature quarterback may have crumbled under the pressure, but Ryan has excelled. Look at Atlanta now.
The Bengals are in somewhat of a similar situation. Granted, Carson Palmer was no Vick, but there is a whole new offense to learn and that offense, as of right now, has no one to lead it. Guys like Cam Newton and Ryan Mallett may be more talented than Ponder but are they the right fit? Would they be able to handle the pressure that will be placed upon their shoulders as a starting quarterback in the NFL in a new system, filling in Palmer's shoes (and they're big shoes, regardless of what you think about Palmer) and playing in a city that is expecting them to win?
Matt Ryan has not only filled the void created by Mike Vick, but he's improved the team. It's been kind of a feel-good story in Atlanta. Unfortunately, we know as Bengals fans that feel-good stories don't usually unfold in Cincinnati. A backwards front office has created a losing culture in the Queen City. Sure, there are winning teams here and there but, in general, you can usually consider it a safe bet to say that the Bengals won't be playing football in late January. While I don't think one player can fix that, I think one player can certainly help.
There is no Matt Ryan in this year's draft class. Instead there is an incredible athlete in Cam Newton, a spread-offense quarterback with a lot of promise in Blaine Gabbert, an extremely athletic prospect in Jake Locker, a great pure passer in Ryan Mallett and a proven winner in Andy Dalton, among others. All have their upsides and their downsides. For example, few prospects in recent years have the upside that Cam Newton does; unfortunately, few have his downsides. Each player could bring their own skill sets into the Bengals huddle and maybe even succeed more often than they fail. However, knowing how things are in Cincinnati, the Bengals are going to need a quarterback that not only has the talent to win, but the maturity to put the entire backwards franchise on his shoulders, look the men in the huddle, many of whom are older and more experienced, in the eyes and say "follow me to the end zone."
That requires character and maturity, two characteristics that many NFL scouts and draftniks believe some of the prospective quarterbacks entering into this year's draft don't have.
CBS's Draft Scout's Rob Rang on Cam Newton:
Scouts question whether he has the football intelligence necessary to handle the myriad of formations and adjustments to be successful in a pro offense. Though his football IQ has been questioned, scouts rave about his poise on and off the field, as well as his leadership ability. Quickly emerged as Auburn's unquestioned leader. Despite his leadership, teams will have to do their homework on Newton's off-field behavior. Was arrested while at Florida for possession of a stolen laptop computer. He and his father were infamously investigated for their role in a pay-for-play scheme at Mississippi State that endangered Newton's eligibility and Heisman candidacy. The NCAA and SEC chose not to suspend Newton due to a lack of evidence that he had knowledge of his father courting payment in exchange for his son accepting a scholarship offer.
Some have concerns over his maturity level. Has a brash personality that has caused some to question whether he possesses the leadership to handle an NFL huddle. Was never voted a team captain with the Razorbacks despite the fact that quarterbacks are often pushed by coaching staffs as such. Very confident in his own talent and early in his career wasn't known for his dedication to the film room. Arrested for public intoxication on March 1, 2009, in Fayetteville.
While Mike Brown has never shied away from drafting or signing a guy with some character concerns (see Adam Jones ,which worked out, and Andre Smith, which didn't), I would say that should eliminate those two prospects, if it were up to me, right away. I would then move on to the rest of the field.
Respected leader in the locker room. Has the confidence to win over the huddle. Willing to put in the time in the film room to master the offense. Very competitive, gives full effort on the field. Played only five games as a high school senior because of foot and shoulder injuries.
In addition to his durability and consistency concerns, scouts also have to worry if Locker will remain in football. He's a dual sport athlete who has twice been drafted by MLB's Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Signed a six-year deal with the Angels in 2009, though part of the agreement is that Locker will pursue a career in football over baseball. Technically considered a walk-on at UW as the Angels are paying for his scholarship costs. Highly respected by the coaching staff, teammates and fans. Gutty, determined. Named a team captain in 2009 and 2010. Honored with the Guy Flaherty Most Inspirational Award, the UW's oldest and most prestigious team honor, following the 2009 season.
Carries himself like an NFL quarterback. Highly respected team captain who takes his role as a leader seriously. Comfortable leading vocally or by setting the example on and off the field. Earned his Master's Degree in finance and is working on his doctorate. Durability concern. Missed the final three games of the 2009 season with a grade-3 separation of his throwing shoulder and suffered more injuries to this throwing arm (including undergoing two surgeries on his elbow) in 2010. Father, David, played linebacker at Florida State from 1980-83.
Andrew Luck is likely the best non-NFL quarterback in the country. If he were in the draft and available when the Bengals go on the board, they would be idiotic not to welcome him to Cincinnati. Unfortunately, Luck is finishing his college career at Stanford. Now, Gabbert may be the nation's top prospect, but does that mean he's worth a No. 4 overall pick? I would venture to say that none of the quarterbacks in this year's draft class belong in the top-five.
Beyond that, Locker's accuracy and consistency scare me and I believe that Gabbert will likely be off the board by the time the Bengals make a selection, possibly even at No. 1 by the Panthers. Besides, at No. 4, when players like Nick Fairley, Da'Quan Bowers, Patrick Peterson or A.J. Green are possibly available, do you really want to take a chance on a spread quarterback that has never played in a pro system? I wouldn't.
That's why I think the best possible option for the Bengals is to draft a game changing athlete in the first round and hope to grab Ponder in the second.
Ponder played in a pro system, and even better, it was a west coast system. Of all quarterbacks in this year's draft class, not one of them is capable of stepping into the Bengals' system and make a difference immediately like Ponder probably is. On top of that, Ponder's leadership skills could benefit the Bengals in the huddle and in the locker room, especially now that Palmer has thrown in the towel.
Josh wrote earlier in March that Christian Ponder could make sense in the second round, quoting NFL Network's Mike Mayock who said:
"He’s a West Coast (scheme) quarterback who is smart, talented and a hard worker," Mayock said. "He’s one of those guys that as we get closer to the draft, I think the more teams are going to like him. While we’re all focused on those first-level quarterbacks, don’t be surprised if Ponder continues to move up and very quietly teams fall in love with him."
There is no official announcement that Ponder is planning a visit to Cincinnati before the draft later this month but it's likely that he'll be in town before the NFL moves into Radio City Music Hall on the 28th. During that time, I hope the Bengals fall in love with Ponder, not just because of what he can do on the field, but because of what he can do off of it as well.
Because the position of quarterback requires a player to have the intangible qualities of maturity, leadership and determination, especially if they're thrust into a starting role immediately, which is what will likely happen in Cincinnati, I believe that Florida State's Christian Ponder is the best guy for the job. He already knows the basics of the system, but almost just as important, he's got all the intangibles that you would expect from a starter. Even though he has some durability concerns stemming from arm injuries, he's no more of a risk than any other quarterback that could be drafted in the first couple rounds of the draft.
As one CP leaves Cincinnati, I sincerely hope that the Bengals decide to bring another CP in to replace him.