EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. The Minnesota Vikings had done their due diligence prior to the 2011 NFL draft, fully researching several quarterbacks in the hope of landing the one true franchise quarterback that could lead the team for the next several years.Minnesota met with Cam Newton, who went No. 1 overall and won the rookie of the year award last year. The Vikings also met with Jake Locker, who went to the Tennessee Titans with the eighth overall pick and liked what they saw from the athletic signal-caller out of Washington. Of course, Minnesota researched Christian Ponder, whom the team took four picks after Locker was off the board.In a draft class that had four quarterbacks selected in the first 12 picks Jacksonville caused some moments of trepidation by jumping ahead of the Vikings and taking Missouri's Blaine Gabbert at No. 10 and six quarterbacks selected in the first 36 picks, Minnesota has been pleased with the final results from a franchise-altering draft 20 games into the NFL careers of those quarterbacks."The pros and cons (between Locker and Ponder) that we had set up, it really didn't come into play," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said, with Locker being taken before Minnesota's pick. "We felt good about Christian and we were fortunate he was still on the board. We knew there were some other teams that really liked Christian as well and we thought they might try to jump us to get him. It worked out well for us."Newton has electrified the NFL in his short career and Andy Dalton, picked No. 35 by the Cincinnati Bengals, has started every game of his career and helped Cincinnati to the playoffs last season.Meanwhile, Ponder received a crash-course in NFL life after being inserted into the lineup early in his rookie season because of the Vikings' failed attempt with Donovan McNabb of easing Ponder into the league. Locker, whose Tennessee team comes to the Metrodome to play Minnesota this week, played in five games last year as a reserve and was named the Titans' starter before the season began.Locker has been declared out with a shoulder injury, delaying the matchup with Ponder. But the two will likely be linked throughout their careers as two similar players that were on several teams' wish lists in April 2011."(Ponder's) a good quarterback," Tennessee coach Mike Munchak said. "It's tough. When we were picking where we were, we liked both guys. For us at that time, we just felt Jake fit more with what our offense was doing and what we were going to ask Jake to do. That was the only reason. Believe me, we thought Christian was a really good quarterback. I think Minnesota got a great guy that will be there for a long time and someone they're going to be really happy with. I just hope it's not so much this Sunday."Locker was the big, athletic workout star NFL coaches drool about. At 6-foot-3 and 234 pounds, Locker was extremely mobile and a willing runner at Washington, but also equipped with a strong arm and Minnesota was reportedly highly interested. Ponder, 6-foot-2, 229 pounds, was the cerebral, accurate passer from Florida State. He had been plagued by injuries during his career and many draft analysts doubted his arm strength. Some projected him to go in the second round or later, but NFL teams had different ideas.Both players ended up visiting with the Titans, but Ponder never thought of himself as competing against the other quarterbacks in his class."I had no idea who was going to get picked where," Ponder said. "I went into that whole draft process, I knew that my senior season wasn't that great and I had to do everything possible to make myself better. I wasn't really looking at it as competing with other guys. Our film was our film, there was nothing really to change that. You can't really change how certain teams feel about you."The Vikings scooped up Ponder and haven't looked back. Ponder struggled through an inconsistent and injury-filled rookie season, but was deemed the team's starter into the offseason program and he went to work with offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and quarterbacks coach Craig Johnson and is putting together a strong sophomore season.Ponder is eighth in the league with a 97.7 quarterback rating and is tied for fifth in completion percentage at 68.3 percent. More importantly, Ponder hasn't committed the mistakes and turnovers that defined his rookie campaign.Locker, who's dealing with a separated shoulder for the second time this season, is going through many of those same learning opportunities Ponder benefited from last season. Locker owns a 90.2 quarterback rating this year as a first-time starter in four games and is completing 63.2 percent of his passes."They're similar in a lot of ways," said guard Steve Hutchinson, who played with Ponder last year and is in Tennessee with Locker this season. "I think they're both highly-competitive guys, kind of natural leaders, guys that want to take control of the huddle and be a voice in the offense, not just a guy that kind of has a role. They understand the quarterback position is a leadership position on the team and they grasp that, both of them in a young stage in their career."Hutchinson isn't surprised Ponder has progressed this season or that he's helped lead Minnesota to a 3-1 start and a lead in the NFC North."I don't think there was a doubt that Christian was going to be a great player for that team," Hutchinson said. "I think last year with the new offensive system and the lockout and the no offseason and asking a rookie to come in and grasp every aspect of the game at the quarterback position at the NFL level was hard to do. I knew once he settled in, he'd be good."With Ponder is settling in, he and the Vikings aren't having any second thoughts about how the draft played out 18 months later."Yeah, I love being here," Ponder said. "I feel I fit very well with coach Musgrave and with this offense. Obviously now playing early, and getting the chance to play last year, I feel like I'm definitely in the perfect spot."
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