Football Mythbusters: Can Tebow Take It to the Next Level?

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Football Mythbusters: Can Tebow Take It to the Next Level?
(Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

This is a two-part myth, but both parts are better off discussed at once.

MYTH One: Tim Tebow will enter the NFL in 2010 at a position other than quarterback.

MYTH Two: In fact, Tim Tebow would not be a very good NFL quarterback.

 

FACTS: He’s such a versatile athlete that people constantly claim he would be better suited at another position.  I have read articles mentioning him at Tight End, Linebacker, Safety, Running Back, and Fullback.

Though he might be utilized sparingly in different offensive roles in varying packages, there is no way he will be converted to another position.

First of all, the NFL learned its lesson with Kordell “Slash” Stewart, who, as best described by Jerome Bettis, “never really got an opportunity to develop as a quarterback.  He became a jack of all trades, a master of none.”

Stewart had great upside as a running quarterback.  In fact, he was so athletic that his team used him in many roles other than quarterback.  As a result, this prevented him from becoming one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks ever. 

Spending so much time on other positions, Stewart’s abilities to be an NFL quarterback suffered, and he became a journeyman quarterback who never lived up to his full potential.

A more recent example of a player who played multiple positions and saw a decline in their abilities is Chicago’s Devin Hester.  In his first two years in the league, Hester was without a doubt the most electrifying kick and punt returner (though not a very good cornerback in his rookie season).

Hester was on track to absolutely shatter most punt and kick returning records in the NFL, but then the Bears lost their top two wideouts in free agency, and Hester was thrust into the role of a No. 1 starting receiver. 

Though he showed a little bit of promise as a receiver, and it will be interesting to see how the addition of Jay Cutler will accelerate his development at receiver, his kick returning skills suffered drastically.

By the end of the season, Hester had lost his kickoff return job to Daniel Manning.  Though Manning was very good as a kick returner, Hester’s decline was the cause of Manning’s promotion.

Playing a position in the NFL is a full-time job that requires large amounts of practice and preparation.  Playing multiple positions decreases the amount of time you are able to spend on any of those positions, and prevents you from reaching your full potential at any position.

Tebow and his family have also said that he does not plan to enter the NFL at any position other than quarterback.  Even if a misguided team wants to utilize him at another position, they would be hard-pressed to convince him to do so.

It should also be taken into consideration whether Tebow can be successful in the NFL at quarterback.  Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to combine all the variables that make a great quarterback and then know for sure how successful they will be in the NFL. 

However, one can look at the variables separately and then do their best to make an educated guess.

 

Size/Arm Strength: The biggest knock on Colt McCoy, college’s second-best quarterback, is that he is too small to withstand hits from defenders.  Tebow, on the other hand, delivers hits to defenders. 

Though that will probably shorten his NFL career if he doesn’t start avoiding hard contact whenever possible, it shows that he can take the hits that he can’t avoid.  There is no possible way you could say Tebow is too small to play in the NFL.

Tebow has connected on plenty of deep passes during his college career, and it is a ridiculous notion that Tebow lacks the arm strength to throw downfield in the NFL.

 

Accuracy/Throwing Motion: He doesn’t have the prettiest spiral, and he throws sidearm, but the ball gets exactly where it needs to go.  He also reportedly worked on his throwing motion this offseason, changing from a sidearm throw to a three-quarter overhand motion. 

Unfortunately, I missed Florida’s spring game and did not get to see the results of this change in passing style.  With a whole offseason of working to improve his passing, Tebow, already an adequate passer, could become one of the deadliest dual-threat quarterbacks to play the game.

The one negative thing I have to say about Tebow in this regard is that he is left-handed.  The way he places the ball when he throws will be difficult to predict for most receivers who are used to right-handed quarterbacks.

This will be especially difficult if a quarterback injury occurs.  If Tebow is starting and has to miss a game or two, if his backup is right-handed, receivers will have to re-adjust in the middle of the season, and then adjust yet again when Tebow returns.

However, the same things could have all been said about Steve Young at the beginning of his career.  Left-handedness will definitely be an obstacle for Tebow, but not an insurmountable one.

 

Mobility/Pocket Presence: Pure speed isn’t the most impressive aspect of his game. Plenty of college quarterbacks have that.  What distinguishes Tebow from the rest of them is his innate knowledge of when to run and where to run. 

His ability to scramble isn’t all that makes him special.  He is phenomenal at moving around inside the pocket, avoiding defenders and holding onto the ball just long enough to let the play develop.

Also, unlike most quarterbacks who are a significant threat on the ground, Tebow understands not only when to run, but when not to run.  This is important, because if you take of running too soon, the results can be just as poor if you start running too late. 

Another element of his play that differentiates him from other mobile QBs is that he only runs when it is necessary.  He has a tremendous instinct for understanding whether he’ll make a bigger gain on the ground or through the air.

As I mentioned earlier, Tebow tends to hit into defenders instead of avoiding them.  This will not help his longevity in the NFL.  He needs to take what the defense is giving him, and then get out of bounds.  If he does this successfully, he will avoid unnecessary injuries and extend his playing career.

 

Mental Difficulty of the Transition: Urban Meyer runs a fairly complex offense for the college level, and I think that will make it a little easier for Tebow to learn an NFL playbook.  Needless to say, Tebow would benefit greatly from a year or two of being a backup and learning the offense. 

Look at Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart: Both were USC standouts and Heisman winners. Both were drafted by teams with great receivers.  Yet in the NFL, Palmer has enjoyed more success than Leinart.

In the NFL, Palmer sat behind Jon Kitna for a year before taking the reins and leading the Bengals’ offense to great success.

Leinart, on the other hand, was thrust into the starting role for the Cardinals and failed despite the help he had at receiver.  In 2008, the Cardinals’ starting QB job was officially given to Kurt Warner, who then helped lead the Cardinals to the Super Bowl.

If Tebow is drafted early in the first round, then that means he will go to a team that performed poorly in 2009, and chances are he will have a chance to earn a starting job.  Also, going to a bad team means he will have a harder time succeeding in the NFL than if he went to a team with an established starting quarterback.

Tebow will not be drafted by a playoff team, either. Drafting a quarterback in the first round is often seen as a threat to the starting quarterback (Green Bay found this out the hard way in 2005 when they drafted Aaron Rodgers), and is not something that teams with solid quarterbacking situations tend to do.

If Tebow somehow slips past the first 20 picks in the draft, he won’t be picked at all in the first round for this reason.  If he goes into the second round, he’ll be drafted before any playoff teams have another shot at him: There’s no way EVERY team that needs a good quarterback will pass on him twice. 

Therefore, it’s most likely that Tim Tebow will end up starting on a team that played poorly in 2009.  This will impede his development as a quarterback because he will not have good weapons to work with.

 

Leadership/Work Ethic: After a one-point loss to Ole Miss, Tebow gave a speech declaring that nobody would work harder than him to make sure the Gators don’t lose again.  He didn’t blame anyone else, he just simply guaranteed that he would do everything he could to help his team win.

This type of determination indicates that he has the mentality to succeed in the NFL.  A large majority of top picks, especially quarterbacks, come from teams where losing two or more games in a season is a rarity.  When moving on to the NFL, it is that much more difficult to judge how the player will handle losing on a much more routine basis.

Seeing the classy way in which Tebow took responsibility for the loss and then rallied his teammates all the way to a national championship should reassure the team drafting him that his response to a loss will not be to dwell on it, but to make sure it happens a lot less often.

Compare Tebow’s speech to the attitude displayed by St. Louis QB Marc Bulger, who after a loss to the 49ers in December 2008, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch “We’re not good enough.” 

You can almost guarantee that Tebow would never say that about his team or himself, even if it was true.  This type of winning attitude is necessary in order to change the fortunes of a perennial loser and turn the team around.

 

Off-Field Concerns: None.  Quarterbacks are the most visible players on each team, and as such, the teams that draft them have to be sure there are no character concerns.  With Tebow, you have no concerns whatsoever.

You don’t have to worry about his picture ever going on TMZ, because he seems to avoid the role of a celebrity quarterback.  Though he receives more media acclaim than most NFL quarterbacks, he has not let the fame and attention cause him to act stupid.

While a large majority of college students were out partying during Spring Break, Tebow was doing missionary work in the Philippines.  He says and does all the right things to indicate he is not a character risk at all.  Drafting him will help any team’s image.

 

With the above considerations in mind, I think that Tim Tebow will have a moderately difficult time in his first couple of years as an NFL starter, but will eventually grow into a very good, if not, great, NFL quarterback for years to come.

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