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The Candidates: Tim Tebow, Ryan Mallett
For all the attention he gets, Tebow is still a backup quarterback, and this Tom Brady character seems pretty entrenched as New England’s starter. So, like all backups, Tebow will need to earn his roster spot.
It’s been quite a fall from grace for the former first-round pick, who just two years ago led the Denver Broncos to a playoff upset of the big, bad Pittsburgh Steelers. Tebowing was all the rage, and the quarterback himself approached the legendary status Bill Swerski’s Superfans bestowed on a certain Coach Ditka: “Who would win in a fight, Tebow or God? Trick question—Tebow is God!”
Sure, his passing left much to be desired, but with diligent hard work and John Elway’s tutelage, he could refine his game. After a miraculous season in which the fan favorite gutted out win after win, he’d at least earned the opportunity to prove his doubters wrong.
Then Peyton Manning happened.
The Broncos landed the future Hall of Fame quarterback and sent Tebow to the New York Jets and ultimately his professional demise.
The Jets unconscionably stuck with Mark Sanchez and his assured mediocrity, leaving Tebow to rot on the bench. Even when their season dissolved into a Benny Hill-style comedy, they eschewed Tebow in favor of Sanchez’s astounding ineptitude.
Even on the rare occasions when Tebow saw the field, the Jets limited him to quarterback draws and doomed gimmick plays. They mishandled the situation so badly that by the time they cut him loose this offseason, nobody in the NFL thought he was fit to play quarterback.
Nobody, that is, besides Bill Belichick.
So here Tebow stands, warming Christian hearts and New England’s bench, fighting for a roster spot and quite possibly his football life.
Ryan Mallett, on the other hand, entered this offseason as Tom Brady’s unquestioned backup and eventual heir apparent.
Since the Patriots drafted him in the third round of the 2011 NFL draft, Mallett has spent the past two years learning New England’s offense and watching Brady run it to perfection. He hasn’t seen much action during that time, but the last time Mallett played regularly—at Arkansas—he was outstanding.
An arrest for public intoxication torpedoed his draft stock, but he was one of the most productive quarterbacks in his draft class. Purely from a statistical standpoint, he deserved every bit as much draft consideration as Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder and Jake Locker, all of whom went in the first 12 picks.
Gabbert was forced to start as a rookie for a woeful Jaguars team and hasn’t been allowed to develop. He must now fend off Chad Henne for his starting job and appears completely overmatched at the professional level.
Locker and Ponder were brought along more slowly, although both eventually saw in-game action—for the Titans and Vikings, respectively—as rookies. Both have experienced varying degrees of professional success and shown flashes of quality quarterback play.
Both are also at a career crossroads, with their respective organizations counting on them to take the next step in their development. In Ponder’s case, the Vikings are relying on him to help fulfill their Super Bowl aspirations.
Mallett, however, has been allowed to grow at his own pace with no undue pressure to perform. He hasn’t led a team to the playoffs like Ponder did last season. He also hasn’t been overexposed and fed to the wolves like Gabbert.
He’s an unknown.
With that, he carries the promise of great potential as well as the risk of abject failure. The Patriots can’t know which one will surface unless he’s actually forced into action.
My Prediction: Mallett
In two seasons at Arkansas, Mallett threw for 7,493 yards, 62 touchdowns and only 19 interceptions. He has first-round arm talent and presumably has a firm handle on the Patriots’ offense by now, two skills that are well-suited to New England’s fast-paced passing attack.
Tebow, on the other hand, isn’t a very good fit for their offense. His limited passing ability makes him unlikely to succeed in a full-time role for the Patriots. He may sneak his way into the playbook here and there, but neither quarterback will see significant playing time unless Brady goes down.
If that happens, Mallet will get the first opportunity, giving the team their only chance to win without completely overhauling their offense.