The Great Debate series wouldn’t be complete this year without a discussion about Broncos rookie quarterback Tim Tebow.
Tebow is one of the most talked-about players in the NFL and he hasn’t even played in a regular-season game. The Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback from Florida is a polarizing wonder. Tebow’s NFL future has been serious water-cooler conversation ever since Denver shocked the NFL by trading three draft picks to move up and take him with the No. 25 pick in April. Everybody has an opinion and the opinions vary.
And that is the case with ESPN.com senior writer John Clayton and AFC West blogger Bill Williamson. Clayton is taking the stance that Tebow’s game will not translate to the NFL, while Williamson believes it will.
Let’s get started:
John Clayton: Bill, we were at Broncos camp at the same time, which is why I’m surprised we have come to such different opinions. Because I know you so well, I know you are an optimist. Like most people, you would like to see Tebow succeed as a quarterback. I would like to see him succeed too. At the moment, though, I don’t see it in the immediate future and when I say immediate future, I’m thinking the next two, maybe three, years.
Remember how we watched Tebow throw with the proper mechanics in warm-ups. He kept the ball high and was consistent with his release point in pre-practice. Then we watched practice and some of the old habits returned. He would throw the ball with more of a sidearm delivery. At times, there would be a little hitch in the throw. The release was slow and sometimes the passes weren’t accurate.
In sports, it’s hard to change habits. While it’s possible for him to fix the delivery in time, it’s going to take at least two years. I give Josh McDaniels credit, he recognized the dilemma and covered the organization by giving Kyle Orton a one-year contract extension. Both of us agree Orton is good, not great. It’s also nice that he recognizes that both of us respect his abilities, leadership and the way he runs an offense.
What I like most about watching Tebow is his dedication. He won’t fail because of a lack of effort. How about the extra stretching and muscle-building exercises he does at practice? Too bad we can’t find a "throw doctor’" we can send him to for a quick fix.
Bill Williamson: Mechanics is a fair enough place to start on Tebow. That, of course, is the biggest knock on him. He has an awkward delivery, there’s no doubt about it. But I don’t think it’s a sure sign of failure for a quarterback. Philip Rivers doesn’t have the prettiest motion in the league, nor did the late Steve McNair. Rivers is an elite player and McNair was an NFL MVP. They were able to adjust in time and Tebow will have time.
Even though we will see Tebow as a rookie in special formations such as the Wildcat, he probably won’t start until 2012 unless there is an injury to Orton. Rivers and McNair sat and they were better for it. Plus, Tebow already has made strides in a short time under McDaniels’ guidance. He’s a much better quarterback today than he was the day he was drafted four-plus months ago. He got better as the offseason program went on and he made improvements in training camp and in the preseason. Tebow’s delivery appeared to shorten as the preseason went on. He is working on improving himself. Imagine what is going to happen when the learning curve continues for two years?
Plus, several NFL folks I have talked to, including Rivers, say that Tebow doesn’t necessarily have to refine his entire motion, just naturally work on it and still be the player he is comfortable being. I think taking this player’s delivery and making that the premise for his ultimate failure may be a tad short-sighted.
JC: Because you covered the Broncos in Denver, you can appreciate this: Denver is one of the toughest cities to be an NFL quarterback, and I think the Broncos made a big mistake by hyping him up after the draft.
The biggest mistake was making him a first-round pick. Quarterbacks taken in the first round tread on John Elway’s turf. Those who tread on Elway’s turf get worse than turf toe. They eventually become unemployed. The worst I remember was Tommy Maddox. He came to town when Elway was still a top quarterback. He eventually had to go into Arena Football and then the Steelers to have any kind of a successful career. The quarterback expectations eventually caught up to Brian Griese and Jake Plummer.
Now, here comes Tebow, perhaps the greatest college leader of our time. By him being taken in the first round, Tebow jerseys flew out of stores. Fans expected his college skills to translate into the NFL with instant success. Columnists in town took their sides, and some of the most influential called for McDaniels to have guts and just go with Tebow. Had that happened, Tebow might be destined for the Arena League.
In Denver, as you know, good isn’t good enough when it comes to quarterbacks. Griese was kicked away because he was a 60-percent thrower but a 50-percent winner. Plummer’s time ran out because he was a 50-percent thrower and a 60-percent winner. The standard in Denver is Elway, the ultimate arm and the ultimate winner. He carried the Broncos. Tebow can’t do that right away and I’m not sold he ever will. Even if he fixes his bad throwing mechanics, he has the chance to start his career as a 50-percent thrower. Because the talent around him is suspect, Orton, who is good, is going to struggle to make the Broncos a 50-percent winner this season. That means Tebow would have better than a 50-50 chance of being a disaster.
BW: John, I think any team that would have drafted Tebow would have pumped him up. It goes with the territory of drafting a quarterback in the first round. Select Tebow in the first round and the situation magnifies greatly. This was a great draft with several top-flight players and Tebow stole the draft. The draft was all about the No. 25 pick. That wasn’t the case last year when Miami drafted Illinois cornerback Vontae Davis at No.25.
Tebow brings electricity. It’s because he has great intangibles. I know intangibles don’t pay the bills, but they can be a great difference-maker. Tebow has special intangibles. People gravitate toward him, including his teammates.
This whole Tebow Mania deal in Denver had potential to be a disaster. Tebow’s jersey instantly became the biggest seller in the NFL and Tebow is Topic A in Denver. This is the most popular team in the state of Colorado and all anyone wants to talk about is the rookie quarterback. That could have led to jealousy and hostility. It hasn’t happened.
It hasn’t happened because Tebow immediately earned the respect of his veteran teammates by being humble and working hard. Veterans such as future Hall of Fame cornerback Champ Bailey have been wowed by Tebow’s work ethic and attitude. Remember that hideous Friar Tuck haircut Tebow's teammates gave him prior to an open scrimmage? Tebow didn’t fret. He embraced the hazing. He’s a team guy.
During the preseason, his teammates have remarked how Tebow already has controlled the huddle. The Broncos believe in Tebow just as his teammates at Florida did. Elway and John Lynch have raved about Tebow’s intangibles after meeting him. If you impress these two guys, you have something going for you.
JC: After we left Broncos camp, I watched Tebow’s first preseason game and came to another disturbing conclusion. Because Tebow is fearless, I worry about his health.
That touchdown run he had in his first preseason game was exciting, but it also reminded me of the pounding Tebow took in college trying to get Florida to be a great college power. As a college quarterback, Tebow was bigger and more powerful than a lot of the linebackers and defensive backs trying to tackle him. In the pros, he’s a target and I worry about him getting concussions or more injuries. That preseason touchdown run bruised his ribs, and the injury was a result of Tebow not playing it safe. That’s the style that made him so good in college and it’s the style that could make his career ever so short in the NFL.
As great as Tebow is as an athlete, he runs a 4.7 40, which isn’t particularly fast for a NFL quarterback. His footwork isn’t the greatest either. In many ways, Tebow looks like a combination of Steve Grogan and Joe Kapp. Sorry for going old school on you, buddy, but the point I’m trying to make is what worked for Grogan and Kapp back in the day doesn’t work now in a league dominated by great passers.
Michael Vick is a better athlete and better thrower than Tebow will ever be and I’m not sold he can be a winning quarterback in the post-2005 NFL, which is dominated by quarterbacks who are accurate and can run the no-huddle flawlessly. Vince Young is the ultimate compromise that might work because he’s a 6-foot-5 quarterback who is faster than Tebow and is always looking downfield when he rolls out of the pocket. I fear Tebow tucking the ball away and just running, absorbing a big hit.
I do think Tebow’s in good hands with McDaniels now that Orton will be the starter for the next two years. I just hope he stays healthy, which he will if they groom him to be an eventual backup and see where he is as a developmental quarterback by 2012.
BW: John, I don’t think there is any gray area. I don’t think Tebow is going to be a decent backup. He is either going to be a star or be a failed experiment. And I don’t see him failing. He is simply not going to allow himself to fail.
In one of my conversations with Tebow, he admitted that he is afraid of failure. He is afraid to let down his coaches, teammates and family. The fire burns. That’s what McDaniels saw during the famous combine meeting when the Broncos’ brass fell in love with Tebow.
I have talked to countless folks about Tebow. There are two schools of thought when it comes to whether his game translates to the NFL. One is that Tebow is so focused and so determined that there is no way he’ll fail. The other is that he already has gotten all he can out of limited ability and has peaked as a player. Two head coaches have told me that, as have a couple of general managers.
However, there are many personnel folks who think Tebow will thrive under McDaniels’ guidance. I point to the immense improvement he already has made as evidence that Tebow has not peaked. He learns from his mistakes and he gets better. He reads defenses and senses oncoming defenders better than he did a month ago. He handles the pocket better than he did earlier in camp. Tebow is an ascending player. There’s little doubt in my mind.