- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. is not a Tim Tebow supporter. In fact, Williamson is one of Tebow's harshest critics.
“My prediction is he will see immediate time as a backup, maybe 15-20 snaps a game from the start,” Williamson explained. “Then, I think [coach] Rex Ryan will look at it more and more like Tebow gives the Jets the better chance to win. The Jets' defense is so strong and they’re pretty good on special teams that they could play Tebow more and more, because it gives them the best chance to have a winning record this year. That may not be the right answer long term, but I don’t think Rex cares about that. He’s probably feeling a little heat there with the Jets. I think Tebow becomes the starter before midseason.”
Williamson is not alone in his assessment. Many pundits believe it is inevitable that Tebow takes over in New York.
But does Tebow give the Jets the best chance to win? Let's examine.
The numbers prove that both quarterbacks are winners. Tebow and Sanchez had success at the collegiate level and in the NFL early in their careers.
Tebow has an 8-6 (57 percent) record as starter in two seasons, including a playoff win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Sanchez is 27-20 (57 percent) in three seasons and has four postseason wins. Tebow has a better touchdown-to-interception ratio (17-to-9), while Sanchez has a higher completion percentage (55.3 to 47.3). Both quarterbacks are mobile, but Tebow is a much stronger runner (6.8 yards per carry).
"I think Sanchez is the better player right now, just because he’s the better passer," said Williamson when comparing the two. "But if I had to win one game, four games, maybe one season, I’m taking Tebow because he’s harder to prepare for, his physicality and he's so unique. But if I were to say, ‘Who will have the better career?’ I would pick Sanchez."
A case also can be made that Tebow improved last year and Sanchez did not. That is why there’s a feeling of momentum favoring Tebow.
Tebow is coming off a season in which he went 7-4 replacing Kyle Orton in Denver and led the Broncos an AFC West title. Sanchez was 8-8, missed the playoffs and threw seven interceptions in his final three starts -- all losses. Sanchez must play well early to hold off Tebow.
The Jets also have the kind of team Tebow needs. New York has a top-five defense, a physical offensive line and a coach whose priority is running the football. Tebow's skills make it much easier for Ryan and offensive coordinator Tony Sparano to manage the game. It makes more sense to tell Tebow to throw 15 times per game than to tell Sanchez, a passing quarterback, to do the same.
“The best-case scenario is I think Tebow can take that team to 11-5 if he became the starter early in the season and win a lot of low-scoring type games,” Williamson said. “I think that’s the best he can do, but that’s really being optimistic.”
Keep an eye on New York’s early season schedule. This could mean a lot for Tebow and Sanchez. New York’s first five games are against the upstart Buffalo Bills, at the Pittsburgh Steelers, at the Miami Dolphins, then home against the San Francisco 49ers and Houston Texans. Three of those teams (Steelers, 49ers, Texans) made the playoffs last season, and the Bills have playoff expectations this year.
Sanchez will have a short leash, so if New York starts the season slowly against this tough schedule, Tebow's number will be called early.
Tebow says all the right things, but rest assured he will compete and wants to play. He is a former first-round pick entering his third year, which is big in the NFL. Tebow has been a winner at every stop. It also doesn’t hurt that Tebow has a huge following behind him. As a competitor, it has to be eating at Tebow inside to go from a playoff-winning quarterback to a backup and potential special teams player.
New York is a veteran team that needs to win now. Six key starters are over 30, including defensive tackle Sione Pouha, guard Brandon Moore, offensive tackle Wayne Hunter, safety Yeremiah Bell and linebackers Calvin Pace and Bart Scott. Stars such as cornerback Darrelle Revis, center Nick Mangold and left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson also are in their prime.
Sanchez deserves to start the year as the incumbent. But the Jets don’t have four years to wait on Sanchez to come around.
“What [Tebow] does, he does well. If he gets on the field, he can spark and team and help you win immediately,” Williamson said. “I don’t think his skills are going away, but I also don’t think they will change much. But he’s always going to be a good runner, he’s always going to be tough and make good decisions.”
Because the Jets have a stout defense and good coaching, Tebow may be enough for the Jets to have success in 2012.