Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Tebow ... er, Senior Bowl

I decided to watch the Senior Bowl this afternoon (I'm not sure why), and at some point I came to the conclusion that there's no way any player in the history of the event has drawn more interest than Tim Tebow. That's 60 years of a game that's featured Terry Bradshaw, LaDainian Tomlinson, Thurman Thomas, Philip Rivers and about 100 other future NFL stars.

He didn't even play a whole lot in the game itself, but he was still the focal point. Just look at ESPN's headline: "Tebow struggles, South gets ass kicked like in Civil War falls in Senior Bowl." And in five days of practice -- which are always more interesting than the game because you get to see everybody doing a lot of different one-on-one drills that project well to the NFL -- Tebow was THE story every day.

Tuesday didn't go well. Three fumbled snaps? Yikes. Here's Todd McShay with some analysis:
He was out of rhythm, missing receivers low and high and fumbling snaps while also struggling to read defenses and use proper footwork when dropping from under center.
Here's Bucky Brooks at (although I have a hard time taking a guy named Bucky seriously):
Tebow repeatedly dropped snaps, and had a tough time hitting open receivers. While it is apparent that he has been attempting to work on his unorthodox delivery, his elongated wind up and tendency to pat the ball before releasing, clearly impact his accuracy.
In other words, Tebow had all the problems we knew he had coming in. Things got a little better as the week went on despite a bout of strep throat; I didn't hear about any more fumbled snaps, which is obviously a good thing. And for the record, he was fine in the game itself. The AP story says he "struggled" because he was stripped of the ball twice (I'm not sure why that's really his fault), but I thought his passing was pretty good. He finished 8-for-12 for 50 yards and had four rushes for four yards. He looked about like his usual self, in my opinion.

And that's the ironic thing about all the Tebow intrigue the past several days: Nothing was gonna change for him. If you liked him at the beginning and you saw him improve taking snaps and continue to be upbeat while battling an illness, you weren't gonna change your mind based on a bad day. If you didn't like him and you watched him struggle with snaps and questionable mechanics, it probably just verified your concerns.

This week has been a microchosm of the entire scouting process. But as Mel Kiper explained perfectly, all it takes is one team to fall in love with him ... and with an unquestioned winner and unbelievable leader like Tebow, that team is out there.

As for the other guys nobody really cared about, the two unquestioned winners were Ole Miss RB/WR Dexter McCluster (a 5-foot-8 version of Reggie Bush who will probably end up doing a little bit of everything in the NFL) and Michigan defensive end Brandon Graham (yay for something good coming out of Michigan this year).

McCluster's Senior Bowl week was a lot like Chris Johnson's in 2008, when his stock skyrocketed because people realized he was the fastest guy on the field even against NFL-caliber players. That worked out pretty well for Johnson, although McCluster won't go quite as high in the draft because he's not a true running back. Still, the consensus now seems to be a second-round grade. Is he worth that? Probably, even though I'm not sure he'll ever make it to a Pro Bowl without a set position. But that's sort of his selling point: If you can get an explosive runner, receiver AND returner with a second-round pick, that's a pretty good deal.

Graham was flat-out awesome in practice all week, reportedly dominating every O-lineman he went up against and being called the best player in attendance by Todd McShay. And that was before the game itself, when Graham had five tackles, two sacks, a tackle for loss and a forced fumble and was named MVP. I can't say this any more clearly: If Graham had played for a team that didn't finish 3-9 and 5-7 the past two years (or on a defense that didn't suck), he'd have been a first-team All-American. He's that good.

The glaring question is whether he can be an elite pass rusher at 6-foot-1 and with 30-inch arms; by NFL standards, he has the body of a short tyrannosaurus rex. I don't think he'll be an elite pass rusher, but he can be a good one, and that's just a complement to his true strength (stopping the run). The other big question: Is he a 3-4 outside linebacker or a 4-3 defensive end? My answer: It probably doesn't matter. If you put a gun to my head and told me to choose his best position, I'd say defensive end because of his strength. That said, the comparisons to LaMarr Woodley are valid ... so I don't know. Either way, it sounds like he's moved from borderline first-round pick to solidly in the first round, maybe in the top 20 if he performs well at the combine.

Any way he can get another year of eligibility? Please???

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