Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Tebow Quandary

I usually try to hold off on draft-related discussions until after the bowl games are over and the early-entry deadline has come and gone, but news this week that Tim Tebow has submitted paperwork to the draft advisory committee has brought up an interesting question: Is Tebow an NFL quarterback?

Experts such as Todd McShay and Mel Kiper have publicly stated that they believe Tebow will end up as an H-back (or something similar), but I'm not sure I agree with that. And let me point out that I'm not one of those naive fans who can't figure out why Jason White, Gino Toretta and Colt Brennan weren't No. 1 overall picks. I understand what it is that scouts do and I take pride in being able to project eventual draft status and success in the NFL.

But that's what's so confusing to me about the Tebow debate: Yes, the guy is a Heisman winner who has benefited from playing in a system that fits his abilities, but he also has all the physical tools of any QB in the NFL. His arm strength is outstanding, he shows good touch and accuracy on all types of throws and his mobility -- even if minimized as a pro because of concern for his health -- would be among the best in the league.

I closely watched Tebow's passing in the SEC championship game against Alabama, as I felt the Crimson Tide's pass defense would probably be the toughest he had faced all season (particularly with Percy Harvin sitting out, since that would force Tebow to rely more on receivers such as Louis Murphy and Aaron Hernandez).

What I saw is embedded below. Note the throws at 0:51 and 1:24.

No one can convince me that those aren't NFL throws. Need more examples? Again, note the throws at 0:13, 0:30, 0:59 and 1:18.

Tebow certainly has his weaknesses. His motion is a bit awkward because he doesn't really step into his throws. He often goes through his progressions very slowly when his first read is covered, and while his play fakes and mobility allow this in college, that won't hold true in the NFL. Simply put, he's fairly raw as a passer.

But to ignore the talent he has and categorize him as just another spread-option QB because of the system he's in ... well, that's not doing him justice.

I wouldn't take him in the first round when there are more polished, NFL-ready quarterbacks available, such as Matt Stafford and Sam Bradford. Those guys are well ahead of Tebow in terms of passing ability right now, and at the end of the day, that's what's most important for an NFL quarterback. But if I'm a general manager, I'd have no problem taking Tebow in the second round and letting him sit for a year or two, work with a QB coach and learn a system. If the talent is there to be a great quarterback, at least give it a shot.

And this is all assuming that his running skills will be moot as a professional, which isn't necessarily an accurate assumption. Considering the recent success that the Dolphins have had with the Wildcat formation and the zone-read plays the Titans have installed for Vince Young, I think that even pro offenses are starting to see the benefits of having a skilled athlete taking snaps.

Let's say you're the GM of the Chicago Bears -- who have been looking for respectable quarterback play for several years now -- or the Minnesota Vikings. Wouldn't it be worth drafting a guy like Tebow? Not only is his potential as a passer far beyond what you'll ever get out of Kyle Orton or Tarvaris Jackson, but he could actually add a dimension to your power running game, as well.

When I watch Tebow, I see a left-handed version of Ben Roethlisberger at Miami (Ohio). Tebow isn't nearly as polished as a passer -- comparing the two years each spent as a full-time starter, Roethlisberger threw about 300 more passes than Tebow (923 to 618). But physically, and in terms of the leadership and competitiveness each has shown during his career, the similarities are striking.

And I think that if you asked most NFL general managers, they'd be pretty happy with a younger version of Ben Roethlisberger, even if it takes him a couple of years to find his stride as a passer.

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