ESPN North blogger Kevin Seifert wrote about the "best and worst" in the division on Friday. In the piece he singles out two Vikings moves for his "worst" categories: The trade that brought Donovan McNabb to Minnesota and the performance of quarterback Christian Ponder.
You'll get no argument from me that the acquisition of McNabb was a colossal bust – even though I agreed with the move at the time (I make mistakes now and then.) But I will quibble with Seifert's selection of Ponder as the division's most disappointing rookie.
In my view, the Detroit Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairley had a more disappointing rookie season than Ponder.
Ponder plays a much more high profile position than Fairley, and I'm sure that played into Seifert's decision. But while Ponder's lows in 2011 were very low, his highs were much higher than anything Fairley mustered.
I think you also have to consider what Ponder had to work with compared to Fairley. The Florida State graduate played behind one of the weakest offensive lines in the NFL and had one of the worst wide receiving corps to throw to. Now many of this interceptions were the result of piss-poor decisions he made – and that's a huge concern for Vikings fans going into 2012 – but those are the sort of bad plays I'd expect from a rookie QB. I saw the Lions Matt Stafford make many of the same poor decisions in his injury-shortened rookie year.
Fairley's 2011 play is a bit more disappointing in my mind because of how little an impact he made – positive or negative – during his rookie season. He had 15 total tackles and one sack. To be fair, he had injury problems that hampered him, but so did Ponder. And for a kid who was considered one of the most dominant defensive lineman coming out of college, Fairley was invisible much of 2011.
That's particularly damning when you know Fairley had a much better supporting cast around him than Ponder did. Fairley was part of a deep and talented Detroit defensive line and many thought Fairley, who was drafted right after Ponder – 13th overall – was going to be an important addition to a line that I expected to be pretty dominant in 2011 considering it featured Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril as starting ends and Ndamukong Suh and Corey Williams as the starting defensive tackles – with Fairley backing up Suh.
Yet the Lions defence got worse as the season wore on and it was the main culprit in Detroit's loss to New Orleans in the NFC Wildcard game. You have to think if Fairley had had the kind of rookie year many fans and experts expected him to have, the Lions defence would have performed a bit better in 2011.
So Nick Fairley gets my vote as the most disappointing NFC North rookie, and yes, I know I'm biased.