The draft stock of quarterback Christian Ponder has gone up since the end of the college football season.
Ponder's senior year at Florida State did not live up to expectations. His completion percentage dropped from 68.8 to 61.5, and his yards passing per game fell from 302 to 170.
An elbow injury that Ponder battled the last six games of the year was at least partly to blame. But Ponder was healthy by the time the Senior Bowl came in late January, and he earned most valuable player honors in that all-star game. Then he turned in a good showing at the National Scouting Combine workouts in February.
With at least 11 teams in need of a quarterback in the draft, Ponder is a consideration in the latter half of the first round. At the latest, he figures to go in the second.
Ponder was among the visitors at One Bills Drive on Thursday, along with Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley and Georgia outside linebacker Justin Houston.
If the Bills decide to go defense with the third overall pick in the draft, they could look at Ponder with their second pick if he's still on the board.
Ponder thinks there's enough good video of his play to impress pro scouts.
"Scouts have said they've gone back and watched my junior film and have a better sense of what I was like," he said at the scouting combine. "It's kind of hard to base what I can do off my senior year, but that's what this whole process is for. It'll prove the passer that I really am."
Ponder played nine games as a junior, missing the last four with a separated shoulder that required surgery. In the sixth game of last season, he tore the fascia, connective tissue around the muscle, near his elbow.
"A little pocket formed," he said. "Every time I landed on it, fluid would build up. I'd get it drained once a week and the next game I'd land on it again. Throughout that whole process scar tissue had built up and that was what was impeding it from healing. They went in and cut out all the scar tissue and did some other stuff to heal it. Now it's fine."
Ponder has a good arm, not a great arm. He's 6-foot-2, 229 pounds and went 21-10 as a starter.
"He played four years, he's a smart guy, he came from a pro-style offense where he's had to do the reads and he's had to make the throws," said Bills General Manager Buddy Nix. "He's also a mobile guy. Christian Ponder's got a lot of things going for him."
There's a lot to like about Ponder off the field. He graduated in two and a half years with a degree in finance, compiling a 3.73 grade-point average. He was the only Division I player in the country to complete his MBA before his senior year, and he enrolled in Florida State's graduate sports management program last fall, starting work on a second masters. He won the James Tatum Award as the top student-athlete in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
"We ran a complex offense at Florida State and I think it will carry over well to the NFL," he said. "I'm athletic enough to move in the pocket and make plays with my feet."
Fairley, the top defensive tackle in the country, figures to go somewhere in the top eight of the draft. Buffalo is an option, but the Bills already have two starting-caliber defensive tackles to whom they are committed (Kyle Williams and Torell Troup). Fairley won the Lombardi Award as the nation's top lineman. He had 11.5 sacks, including 1.5 in the national championship game against Oregon.
Houston is rated as a late-first, early-second-round prospect and is leaving college a year early. He's 6-foot-3 and 270 pounds. Houston had 10 sacks in 13 games playing stand-up outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense as a junior. In 2009, he played defensive end in a 4-3 defense and had 7.5 sacks in 10 games.