For the Vikings to reach their potential in 2013, Minnesota's offense must be more than Adrian Peterson and a cloud of dust. And third-year pro Christian Ponder is under increasing pressure to show he belongs.
Peterson believes that will happen, telling NFL.com's Adam Schein, "I've seen a guy that doesn't lack leadership or the ability to take control. Even last year. He's building the confidence. It's my team and I have to be the leader. He's displaying it a lot."
Young passers need time to develop -- something most aren't afforded -- but Ponder must improve fundamentally to keep his job. I was impressed with Ponder's early-season work in 2012, when he led the NFL in completion percentage after two games. He's shown sneaky (but streaky) accuracy in the short game, but a closer look reveals that Ponder is a shambles attacking defenses deep.
Ponder last season was the only quarterback without a touchdown pass of 21-plus yards (minimum 10 throws), per NFL research. Over two seasons, he's 11 for 70 (15.7 percent) on attempts of 21-plus yards through the air. That's netted 436 yards, one touchdown, five interceptions and a 28.0 passer rating. Last season alone, Ponder was 5 of 34 on those longer throws, for a completion percentage of 14.7.
It gets worse: ProFootballFocus ranked Ponder last in accuracy among 33 NFL quarterbacks on passes of 20-plus yards. His receivers were a ragtag group after Percy Harvin was injured in early November, but Ponder's slew of incompletions included just one drop, per the website.
Compare that to the league's most accurate deep-ball gunner, Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers, who completed 19 of 33 passes for 595 yards, five touchdowns and just one interception, for a completion percentage of 60.6.
Still, our research department dug up one hopeful nugget: Tracking Ponder's total numbers through his first two seasons, the most notable comparison they found? Eli Manning of the New York Giants. The chart to the right shows multiple similarities, but Eli, of course, matured. Now it's Ponder's turn.
He's been stripped of Harvin, but Ponder now has Greg Jennings and intriguing rookie Cordarrelle Patterson lined up wide. With the game's most dangerous running back and a strong offensive line in place, the tools are there for Ponder to grow in Year 3. If he fails to flip the switch, Minnesota is back to square one.
Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter @MarcSesslerNFL.