Tim Tebow: Most Underrated Quarterback in NFL

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistNovember 23, 2011

DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 17:  Quarterback Tim Tebow #15 of the Denver Broncos drops back to pass against the New York Jets at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on November 17, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos defeated the Jets 17-13.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Denver Broncos' second-year quarterback Tim Tebow has been the biggest story in the NFL this year. The Packers are 10-0 as Aaron Rodgers is having a historic campaign. The Colts are 0-10 in Peyton Manning's absence. Tom Brady and Drew Brees are dominating in typical fashion. Most years, those would be the guys garnering all the attention, but this has been the year of Tebow (and he's only started five of Denver's 10 games).

Whether the attention is warranted or not is irrelevant at this point. It's there, and it's not going away. In fact, the noise is only going to get louder. Talking heads and supposed experts at ESPN and elsewhere love to see athletes fail if it means their analysis will be proven right. It's been that way for years. However, the way these people openly and relentlessly go after Tebow is unprecedented. And with every win Tebow earns, they're going to come up with new and increasingly ridiculous rationalizations in an effort to preserve their reputations.

All the criticism leveled at Tebow has led to an interesting twist of irony. While many verbally bombard the quarterback as incapable, ineffective and overrated, his actual play on the field suggests he's the opposite of all those things—including overrated.

Tebow is grossly underrated as a quarterback who's only made eight NFL starts. It drives me absolutely insane to hear people talk about how horrible Tebow is week after week, even as he wins big games and avoids making any big mistakes. Every other first- or second-year quarterback who's played in my lifetime has been given some leeway with their lack of efficiency because of inexperience. They're all given time to improve and develop. When Tebow fails to complete a pass, he's painted as incapable of ever completing one.

The experts almost never talk about the good things this young quarterback does. In commentary in which his success is anything more than a side note, it's now become the basis of even more criticism. The cool thing for these guys to say now is that he can't sustain this success. If there's going to be any change, it's more likely that he'll improve than decline (as the wizards at ESPN have all but guaranteed).

For argument's sake, let's just put into perspective how horrible Tebow's been through his first half-season as an NFL quarterback. He's completed 92 out of his 196 passing attempts for 1,281 yards, 10 touchdowns and four interceptions. That's a quarterback rating of 77 (respectable for a rookie). He's also run the ball 80 times for 550 yards (an average of 6.9 yards a carry) and five touchdowns. And his record in those eight starts is 5-3. The math is pretty easy if you want to project those numbers out for a full season. Just double everything. How many rookie or second-year quarterbacks can claim this kind of success?

Rookies Andy Dalton and Cam Newton have been praised all year as exceptional for rookies, but they can't claim Tebow's success. Their quarterback ratings are barely above Tebow's, but they don't measure up to Denver's quarterback in other ways. Newton has thrown 14 interceptions compared to his 12 touchdowns and has led Carolina to a 2-8 record this year. And he's losing with offensive weapons that are superior to Denver's in many ways (Steve Smith, Greg Olson and DeAngelo Williams would all be No. 1s if they were on the Broncos depth chart). Leading his team to a 6-4 record, Dalton has been slightly better than Newton, but still turns the ball over much more than Tebow (Cincinnati's quarterback has thrown 12 picks).

We can also compare Tebow to a couple Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks. Here's how his first eight starts stack up:

  Completion % Passing Yards TD INT QB Rate Rushing Yards Rushing TD W/L
Tim Tebow 47 1281 10 4 77 550 5 5-3
Peyton Manning 55 1873 11 16 64.5 33 0 1-7
John Elway 48 1041 3 10 48.8 92 1 3-5

Those numbers are very telling as Tebow is clearly better than two of the greatest quarterbacks of all time through his first eight starts. And it's actually pretty funny how much better he is than Elway, who even as Denver's team president, looks like one of those most openly rooting for Tebow to fail. Those two legends both developed a great deal over their careers, and Tebow will too.

That's one of the most annoying things about Tebow's detractors. They talk about him as if there is absolutely no way that he'll ever be able to improve. As a realist, I know Denver's quarterback has some glaring weaknesses, but I also know that it's the job of a professional athlete to improve. Real development takes drive, an unmeasurable quality, particularly in Tebow's case (as it seems to ooze from him).

He will get better. In fact, he already has. There has been some very obvious development in Tebow from start No. 1 until now. He's reading defenses quicker, he looks more confident in the pocket, and his decision-making has helped him will Denver back into playoff contention this year.

The extent to which countless experts, critics and fans criticize this very successful player makes him incredibly underrated. If he's given a legitimate chance to succeed in Denver over the next few years, Tim Tebow has the potential to develop into an elite quarterback. 


Andy Bailey is on Twitter.