jennings-ball2

There’s no better double freedom rocket than bolting from Lambeau and signing with the Vikings, and Greg Jennings could be about to stick ‘em high.

The Vikings prodding Jennings (quick aside: I imagine that’s exactly how free agency works, with a player in a room, and then a general manager tortures him until he signs) has been an expected development since captain jerkface himself Percy Harvin was shown the door, and quite literally shipped to the other side of the country. Now it’s official, with ESPN’s Adam Schefter reporting earlier this morning that Jennings will start his free agent tour today with an official visit to Viking land. Surely the Norsemen will be cordial.

Initially the reaction here is to worry about Jennings’ production potential should he sign with the Vikings. Those concerns are mostly rooted in the slow development of Christian Ponder, but also the lack of support he would receive. Sure, he would have Adrian Peterson drawing safeties up into the box, which is nice. But who’s catching passes on the other side? Jarius Wright doesn’t exactly bring overflowing joy to your heart.

But oddly, Ponder’s greatest weakness — his inability to throw deep…ever — may make him an ideal partner for Jennings. No, I didn’t drink paint this morning. Hear me out.

First, let’s either establish or re-establish something. In his current form, Ponder doesn’t excel at throwing the deep ball. Could this change over the course of the offseason? Sure, why not. Practice makes prefect, something something.

But right now, here’s how he stands: during the 2012 season, Ponder had 28 completions of 20 yards or more, despite the fact that for half the season he had a receiver (Harvin) who could catch the ball five yards away from the line of scrimmage, and take it the other 15. Ponder’s life was pretty awesome like that, yet his long ball numbers were still below mediocre.

To put them in the greatest perspective, Chad Henne started only eight games for the Jaguars, yet he had 30 completions of 20 yards or more. Worse, over the first seven games of the season, Ponder was infatuated by the dink and dunk approach. Dude loved it.

Remember this from Michael Lombardi in late October?

Ponder has been the king of short tosses this year, completing almost 90 percent of his passes thrown behind the line and almost 65 percent on passes thrown less than 10 yards. But when the Vikings ask Ponder to make plays down the field with his arm, his accuracy and production plummet. Ponder has not even attempted a pass over 30 yards in the air all season — even Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning has attempted nine such passes — and he is only 1-for-10 on passes thrown between 11-20 yards. When defenses take away the short throws and challenge Ponder to drive the ball down the field, the Vikings quarterback fails to deliver.

All of this seems so horribly awful, yet please recall another important Jennings observation made recently after tape watching: at this stage of his career, he thrives in short yardage situations, and intermediate routes that allow him to get the ball in space and then create. ESPN’s Matt Bowen analyzed his film, and saw that Jennings has his most success on routes that break around 12-15 yards:

He’s smooth in the open field, and he can set up a defender and take advantage of poor angles to the ball. That’s why you throw the underneath crosser or hit Jennings on the slant. His ability after the catch can turn a simple route into an explosive play.

Sure, this still means Ponder needs to improve his longer-ish throws. But as I throw some lemons into this sturdy lemonade maker, it also means that Ponder — like Sam Bradford — is far from a death sentence for Jennings’ production after he potentially leaves THE long ball thrower, Aaron Rodgers.