Can Tim Tebow Run An NFL Offense? The Answer Really Doesn't Matter Much!

Gerald BallCorrespondent IMarch 22, 2010

NEW ORLEANS - JANUARY 01:  Quarterback Tim Tebow #15 of the Florida Gators throws a pass against the Cincinnati Bearcats during the Allstate Sugar Bowl at the Louisana Superdome on January 1, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The big question about Tim Tebow leading up to the draft: "Can he run an NFL offense?"

In a way, the very question is unfair: loaded. It is never asked about very flawed QB prospects that the media and most NFL scouts, GMs, and coaches want to succeed. Instead, it is a question asked about guys that they really don't want to succeed and for whatever reason want to keep out of the NFL.

In Tebow's case, it is nothing against him personally. Quite the contrary, it would be fabulous for the NFL were Tebow to succeed, and even more so if he went to a southern, midwestern, or small market team where because of his background and beliefs he would be embraced as one of their own and become a local or regional hero.(Tebow in New York, Seattle, Oakland or San Francisco on the other hand ... not as good a fit.)

But the problem is that Tebow is a running quarterback. So, if Tebow succeeds, it will establish a precedent that other running QBs will follow, and most running QBs are, well, not like Tim Tebow.

But this is why the "can he run an NFL offense" question is so ridiculous.

Let's discuss Sam Bradford in contrast. The guy spent four years at Oklahoma (the first as a redshirt and most of the last injured) in a shotgun-spread offense against Big 12 defenses. Which means that Bradford's reads, throws, footwork, mechanics, and decisions will be totally different, and Bradford lacks the great arm strength, mobility or athletic ability (remember, the kid was only a three star recruit) to get by while he learns those things.

Yet, rather than asking if Bradford can run an NFL offense when no shotgun-spread QB but Drew Brees has succeeded in the NFL (and Brees had a long, hard road adapting to the NFL game after coming into the NFL as a second round pick) Bradford is being projected as a top five pick and possibly No. 1 overall. Make sense? Of course not.

But the main issue: being "able to run an NFL offense" is overblown. Sure, you have your Peyton Mannings that are great at it, but there are never more than four or eight of those guys in the NFL at a time.

And yes, you can find a guy who can run an NFL offense later in the draft (Tom Brady), in a trade or free agency (Brett Favre), or even undrafted (Rich Gannon, Kurt Warner). More on that later.

Also, having a guy who is great at running an NFL offense doesn't guarantee you a Super Bowl, as Danny White, Fran Tarkenton, Dan Marino, Jim Kelly, Dan Fouts, and Donovan McNabb fans will attest. (It also doesn't guarantee winning a Super Bowl quickly, as John Elway, Steve Young, and for that matter Drew Brees and Peyton Manning fans will tell you.)

Another thing: being able to run an NFL offense doesn't guarantee that you will be a consistently good NFL player. Examples: Elvis Grbac, Steve DeBerg, Matt Hasselbeck, Jake Delhomme, Marc Bulger, Steve Beuerlein, Chris Chandler, Rob Johnson, Rex Grossman, Kyle Orton, Jim Harbaugh, Kelly Holcomb, Jon Kitna, etc. What guys like that could do was run an NFL offense. What they couldn't do was make the guys around them better or produce a winning team consistently. So what's the point of having them?

And that speaks nothing of guys like Jeff Blake, Matt Schaub, Jeff George, Vinny Testaverde, and Jay Cutler, who can not only run NFL offenses but put up huge stats and go to Pro Bowls. Fine. But what they can't do is avoid throwing critical interceptions, trying to make big plays downfield when they have guys open underneath (or when they can simply scramble) on third and five, or come up big in critical games needed to stay alive in the playoff race.Β 

Add it all up, and "being able to run an NFL offense" doesn't mean that a team can win with you at QB, which is SUPPOSED to be what the NFL is about. So, the question shouldn't be "can Tim Tebow run an NFL offense", or more to the point "what is now considered to be an NFL offense"?

The question should be "if I draft Tebow, put good players around him and tailor an offense that suits his skills, can I win more games with him than I can with Matt Schaub, Jake Delhomme, Marc Bulger, Derek Anderson, or Brady Quinn?"

Because really, that is no different from what several other QBs who came into the NFL with real questions about them faced in the past.

With Tom Brady and Kurt Warner, there were real questions about their arm strength in a league that relied a lot on vertical passing plus crossing, curl, and out routes. Drew Brees and Joe Montana had the same, plus questions about their height.

Bill Walsh, Dick Vermeil, Sean Payton, Bill Belicheck and guys like that didn't just say "Well, these guys can't run NFL offenses. They are backups at best. Let's go out and get taller QBs with stronger arms who can run an NFL offense like Jeff George, Drew Bledsoe, Scott Mitchell, Steve DeBerg, or Vinny Testaverde." (The New Orleans Saints in particular made a huge gamble in getting Brees in free agency when they could have had either Matt Leinart or Jay Cutler at No. 2 overall in the draft.)

So, an NFL team should ask whether they are better off with coaching up Tebow's delivery and footwork and building an offense around a 6'3" 240 lb. guy who ran a 4.7 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, and who threw for about 8,800 yards and 82 TDs in three years as the Florida Gators' starting QB, or are you better off trading Peyton Hillis for Brady Quinn (the Broncos), trading for Charlie Whitehurst (Seattle), or giving a big contract to Jake Delhomme (the Browns)?

If you fail, then it is no worse than failing with Jim Druckenmiller, Patrick Ramsey, J.P. Losman, or any of the other many guys who were drafted because, well, they could run NFL offenses. (Sure, they could run them ... they just weren't any good). And it is certainly no worse than failing with Ryan Leaf, Rick Mirer, Joey Harrington, Tim Couch, David Carr, Cade Mcnown or any of the other pro-style QBs taken near the top of the draft.

But if you succeed? Well, the offense that you design around a Tebow will then become "an NFL offense." Think about it: the west coast offense wasn't an NFL offense before it was developed for Ken Anderson and Joe Montana by Bill Walsh. The spread passing offenses that came in with Kurt Warner and the "greatest show on turf" and were picked up by the Saints and a lot of other teams were considered gimmick college offenses that would never work in the NFL. Now granted, rules changes protecting QBs and allowing WRs to get off the line of scrimmage made these offenses viable, but the fact that they are now fully accepted NFL offenses remains, and is why Sam Bradford is considered a top of the first round prospect instead of a guy who would have gone only a few spots higher than Drew Brees had they been in the same draft.

So, the team that successfully pulls off and wins with "the Tebow offense" simply adds another option to build an NFL offense around another type of QB. That should be good for the NFL because it means more good QBs and more good teams, right?

Wrong. See, to win with Tebow will inevitably mean running the football. A lot. The media and a lot of NFL guys would really rather see more Super Bowl matchups between teams that almost never run the football, like the Colts-Saints last year and the Cardinals-Steelers the year before. Rules changes allow teams with elite QBs to ignore the running game, and so a lot of media and NFL types want to keep it that way, even if it means limiting the teams that have a real shot to those with a Manning-Brees-Brady caliber QB.

Now they would be willing to accept this with Tebow's case, because Tebow is such a star due to his college career, off the field persona, and personality that the team will be about him even if his tailbacks and defense do all the work. But what if it is a guy who isn't a unique star and personality like Tebow? What if it's Armanti Edwards from Appalachian State leading an NFL team with 2,500 rushing yards to the Super Bowl? (Seriously, the Carolina Panthers could do a lot worse than giving the home state guy who won two FCS titles and cost Lloyd Carr at Michigan his job a shot.) If that's the case, the team isn't about Armanti Edwards. Instead, it will be about whoever that team has at tailback. And that will take the NFL back to where it was in the 1970s and 1980s, where RBs competed with QBs to be the sports' biggest stars.

And, of course, it would also take the media back to where they can stop focusing only on the QBs and have to start actually doing their jobs by reporting on the GAME. Further, the NFL will have to stop kicking back and allowing a QB-driven game to promote itself, and start A) marketing quality football games instead of personalities and B) start marketing a variety of positions instead of just the QB. (Can you imagine the NFL having to make rules changes to protect RBs the way they do for QBs and WRs now? What about for the OLs that block for the RBs?) In short, Tebow's succeeding would mean a lot of guys having to work harder than they have to right now to cover the NFL, promote the NFL and win in it.

I still recall Bob McNair, owner of the Houston Texans, trying to convince Seneca Wallace to switch from QB to WR at the NFL combine. It wasn't because McNair was so interested in Wallace's future as an NFL player, because Wallace isn't McNair's long lost cousin or anything. Also, pretending that Wallace, 5'10" with a 4.68 40 yard dash, was going to light the NFL on fire as a WR was ridiculous.

Instead, it was because McNair wanted to build his team around the passing game (McNair went on to draft David Carr #1 overall, and to later give up two second round picks and $40 million on Matt Schaub) and didn't want guys like Wallace, who had a sensational college career as a zone read option QB at Iowa State, competing with the team that he wanted to build. So, McNair was trying to sell Wallace on the great merits of being the next Antwaan Randle-El, who was really just another third or fourth WR (as the Washington Redskins found out) who has long been overhyped by the media so he could be an example and role model for college QBs that the media and many NFL types don't want to see become NFL QBs. (When in fact the list of college QBs who actually succeeded at other positions in the NFL is a very short one.)

Now Wallace didn't become a star NFL QB. So what ... neither did David Carr. But the fact is that he is still in the NFL, and had he listened to the advice of a man who was more interested in Wallace's not playing QB in the NFL than in Wallace's own future (as if McNair would have given Wallace a job or anything if his NFL career hadn't worked out) and switched to WR, his NFL career would have lasted about as long as 5'10" guys who run in the high 4.6s who don't have the skills or background in the position generally do.

I have the idea that those who are trying to push Tebow into playing LB or H-back (and the latter is ridiculous ... how many NFL teams actually carry an H-back?) is more about keeping Tebow from changing the NFL by succeeding in it than about finding a position where Tebow will actually succeed.

So, the next time you hear someone say "Tim Tebow can't run an NFL offense", unless that someone is a fan of Indianapolis, New Orleans, New England, or Pittsburgh, Tebow fans (which soon will be not just Florida Gators fans but the fans of the NFL team that will draft him) should reply "so what, your QB can, and they still don't win anything!" And if it's a Dallas, Kansas City, San Diego, Seattle or Chicago fan ... say it twice! And if it is the fan of one of the MANY college teams that hasn't produced a good NFL QB in decades, say it three times.


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