It was just four years ago that Christian Ponder’s football future was bright.
The former Florida State quarterback was the 12th overall selection in the 2011 NFL draft and started 10 games as a rookie.
The next season, Ponder started all 16 games, led his team to a 10-6 record and the playoffs. That season he threw 18 touchdown passes against just 12 interceptions.
He was on his way.
But the next season he was derailed by injuries and his career started to unravel. In 2014 he lost his starting job and played just two games.
Now Ponder is starting fresh in Oakland, having signed as a free agent with the Raiders. This time, however, he knows he’s the No. 2 quarterback on the roster behind Derek Carr – a job he seems to have embraced.
“My job, I understand, is the backup and I’m here to help Derek and help this team out,” he said during organized team activities, when he was taking first-team reps when Carr had a finger injury.
“I know that this is Derek’s team right now. But I am bringing a competitive nature to it. I know Derek is a very competitive guy and so is (No. 3 QB) Matt McGloin. Bringing some competition in the room only helps all of us.”
Fans won’t really get a chance to see how good Ponder is in a Raiders uniform – or judge if he’s back on track – until the exhibition games. But it seems Ponder gives the Raiders a better No. 2 than they had at the start of the 2014 season, when Matt Schaub was Carr’s backup.
In fact, this week, John Clayton of ESPN ranked Ponder as the eighth-best backup quarterback in the NFL. Wrote Clayton: “Ponder makes the list because he’s averaged 23.5 points per game during his starts. He falls behind Glennon (No. 6 Mike Glennon of Tampa Bay) because he had the benefits of having Adrian Peterson in the backfield.”
Bill Williamson, who covers the Raiders for ESPN.com, noted, however, that the dropoff from Carr to Ponder could be steep.
“If Ponder, 27, has to play in a short-term situation, I think the Raiders would be OK,” Williamson wrote. “He has a strong arm and even though he struggled some in last week’s minicamp, the team likes him.”
If Carr goes down for a long period, however, the Raiders could be in trouble. Rarely can a backup – even one who was an NFL starter who took his team to the playoffs as recently as 2012 – be effective over a long period.
Ponder, however, says he’s a better quarterback now than he was back then, just because of the trials he’s faced and the strength he’s gained from adversity.
“I think it’s definitely made me better,” he told reporters recently, of his hard times in Minnesota. “Going through those experiences definitely toughened you mentally and you learned from a lot of those things.”