Heisman Hopes: Picking Tim Tebow or Sam Bradford at the Next Level

Keith TestaCorrespondent IJanuary 11, 2009

A Heisman trophy is many things: big and shiny, a guarantee college chicks will think you're awesome, and the highest honor in college football chief among them. But it's hardly a ticket to NFL success, particularly at the quarterback position.

But don't take my word for it. Ask Andre Ware, Ty Detmer, Gino Torretta, Charlie Ward, Danny Wuerffel, Chris Weinke, Eric Crouch, Jason White, Matt Leinart, or Troy Smith. Most of them are available to talk, what with not being busy playing football or anything (Leinart and Smith, admittedly, are on an NFL roster. But so is Deltha O'Neal.)

In fact, in researching this column, I was shocked to study that list. Of the last 13 quarterbacks to win the Heisman, only Carson Palmer can be considered a marginal NFL success. You have to go all the way back to Vinny Testaverde in 1986 to find a guy who had a long and prosperous pro career.

Last week's BCS National Championship game pitted the last two Heisman winners against each other, and that fact alone added another layer of intrigue to an already controversial matchup.

Going in, Oklahoma gunslinger Sam Bradford was considered the more prototypical NFL signal-caller. His numbers this year were freakish, and he had all the physical tools. One ESPN mock draft as recently as Wednesday had him as the Lions' likely pick at the No. 1 spot in the draft.

Florida's Tim Tebow, meanwhile, has long been considered an NFL-caliber player, but most think his ultimate home will be somewhere other than quarterback. He looks to run first, the pundits say. He has a fullback or tight end's body. He has a funky throwing motion. Blah blah blah.

Well, I'll tell you what—I'm hardly an NFL scout (though I'm available, if teams are looking), but I came away from the game confident who'd I'd pick if I had the chance.

Tebow. To play quarterback. Which, coincidentally, is what he does.

Admittedly, neither quarterback played a spectacular game, and one of Bradford's interceptions was more a spectacular play by a Florida defender than a bad throw on his part. In a matchup that figured to light the scoreboard up at a record pace, both defenses rose to the occasion and controlled much of the action.

But Tebow shined brightest when the chips were on the table, and Bradford absolutely disappeared.

I was listening to a portion of the game on the radio, and ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit noted in the third that Tebow was willing his team to victory. And he did—with his legs, admittedly, but also with his arm. And, more importantly, with his guts and determination.

Meanwhile, Bradford turned in one of the crummiest two-minute drills in recent memory. An offense that scored more often than 50 Cent for much of the season should have been able to at least get into field goal range with more than a minute remaining and automatic timeouts after each first down. But Bradford looked downright scared.

Hurried throws. Inaccurate throws. Happy feet. He looked like Peyton Manning vs. the New England Patriots, circa 2003-2004. His fourth down pass came about three seconds too quick and never had a chance. Not exactly what you'd expect from your on-field captain in crunch time.

That's the thing. Tebow proved—on the field, in front of an entire nation—that intangibles matter. Maybe more than physical gifts.

These days teams are drunk on 40 times and bench press totals, and so many guys get drafted on their physical tools alone (see Leaf, Ryan). But don't discount Tebow because he doesn't fit the classic mold of a quarterback. It's like discounting Cindy Crawford because of that mole on her face.

Danny Ainge—an NBA GM with a reputation as a good drafter—said he often looks at a guy who has had a standout career and has all the intangibles but comes up short in one physical area or another.

That's Tebow. He is a winner—period. He vowed after Florida's only loss to guide his team to the title, and he followed through. When push came to shove, he was making most of the plays. He has a rare combination of toughness, guts, and leadership—all things, by the way, that most great quarterbacks have.

I'm not saying Bradford won't be a successful pro. And I don't think Tebow will have a handful of 4,000-yard seasons. I just think the two performances—side by side, in front of millions of people—prove Tebow can play the position. Mostly because he's willed himself to do it.

So what would I do with the No. 1 pick? Draft a running back (see the list at the top of this article). But I think Tebow's intangibles make him an intriguing option at the quarterback position and make him no more of a gamble than Bradford or Georgia's Matt Stafford or any other prototypical pocket passer.

Put it this way: I'm not betting against Tebow. Based on what I saw Thursday, there's no reason to.