What is Tim Tebow's fantasy value with the New York Jets?
In one of the more underreported stories this summer, the New York Jets acquired quarterback Tim Tebow from the Denver Broncos. Forget about Tebow the media personality, Tebow the football player seems to me to be a cross between ex-Jets Pat Ryan (the team's popular, longtime backup quarterback in the '80s) and Brad Smith (who had sporadic success running Wildcat plays).
However, unlike either Ryan or Smith, Tebow potentially still has decent fantasy value even if he doesn't start a game. In fact, Tebow's current average draft position is actually better than Mark Sanchez's, the Jets' actual starting quarterback. Of course, it's not really saying much, as Tebow is a 15th-round pick on average, while Sanchez is barely being drafted at all. Then again, Tebow is a very intriguing fantasy prospect given what he's done in his career and how the Jets may use him this season.
Tebow finished last season 18th among quarterbacks in fantasy scoring with 186 points in ESPN standard leagues despite not starting until Week 7. And if you take the games in which he saw significant action (beginning with a Week 5 relief appearance against the San Diego Chargers), he averaged 16.9 fantasy points per contest. Those points per game were higher than Sanchez (14.2), along with Tony Romo (16.6), Matt Ryan (16.3) and Philip Rivers (15.4), and very close to Eli Manning (17.1) and Michael Vick (17.1).
Interestingly, 83 of Tebow's 186 points (44.6 percent) came from his rushing stats, although it's worth noting he lost six fumbles last season, so that percentage could be even higher. He also threw only six interceptions last season, which seems a bit low given his accuracy issues, so it's actually surprising the run/pass point percentage was that low.
Surprisingly, Tebow is the first quarterback to rush for at least six touchdowns in consecutive seasons. (Players like Randall Cunningham, Steve McNair, Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick and Steve Young have multiple campaigns with at least six TDs, just not in consecutive seasons.) So while my colleague Christopher Harris warns about drafting quarterbacks based on their rushing-TD potential, Tebow appears to be a completely different type of player, and applying that type of analysis may not necessarily work on him.
Tebow definitely has a nose for the end zone when he gets close, as he's scored nine of his 12 career rushing TDs inside an opponent's 10-yard line. And he's scored those nine TDs in just 11 carries, for a nice 81.8 percent conversion rate. (Interestingly, Sanchez scored six times on eight carries inside the 10 last season, which isn't too shabby, either.)
The Jets have brought in former Miami Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano to be the offensive coordinator. Sparano was the head coach in 2008 when the Dolphins popularized the Wildcat formation, with running back Ronnie Brown often taking the snap from a shotgun formation and piling up big yards on the ground. It appears Sparano wants a bit of a Wildcat revival with Tebow in the Ronnie Brown role. Sure, Tebow provides more of a threat passing the ball than Brown, but his rushing prowess (career average of 5.4 yards per rush) makes him a potentially dangerous weapon, even in small doses. And if he gets more looks at the goal line, he could outscore all sorts of quarterbacks even on a part-time basis.
It still remains to be seen how much the Jets will run the Wildcat and how much they'll actually use Tebow on a week-to-week basis, but they do appear invested in getting him his share of snaps. In his career, he's averaged 10.4 rushing attempts per game when he's started. Even if he doesn't start a game this season, it wouldn't seem too crazy to see him get about seven or eight carries per game, and if he maintains his career 5.4 yards per carry, that's still about 40 rushing yards per game with the potential for a rushing TD every week. That would give him about 10 points per week; granted, with a large variation in points in either direction, and that doesn't include any passing yardage.
The less said about Tebow the passer, the better. His passing skills are still a work in progress -- he is a career 47.3 percent passer, which makes his career TD/INT ratio of nearly 2-to-1 (17 TDs, 9 INTs) somewhat puzzling. I guess if his receivers can't catch them, neither can opposing defenders. His performance during the preseason hasn't necessarily inspired much confidence that he'll do a whole lot with the passing game if he does take over full time. There aren't a lot of established weapons beyond Santonio Holmes and Dustin Keller, although the Jets did draft Stephen Hill, who has a similar background to Demaryius Thomas, one of Tebow's top targets last season. Of course, that background is of a physically talented but raw wide receiver who played in a very run-heavy Georgia Tech offense. That said, if Hill does become more involved in the passing game than he likely is now, it appears those extra yards and TDs would just be gravy for Tebow.
Obviously, without a guaranteed starting role, it's difficult to predict Tebow's overall looks per game, but there's definitely the potential for big numbers even in small packages. It's possible to think of his week-to-week fantasy potential much like a decent time-share or handcuff running back such as DeAngelo Williams, Pierre Thomas or Ben Tate. You know they'll get their share of looks, although it's likely no more than 15 or so any given week, and you hope they can do something useful with them and maybe something even more explosive.
If Tebow doesn't throw a single pass this season, I don't think the Jets would be upset with that, as long as he provides solid production on the ground on a consistent basis. (That could open up a whole different discussion of whether Tebow is a quarterback or a running back.) While Tebow is definitely not a starting fantasy quarterback in his current role, there are still all sorts of possibilities with what he can do. I wouldn't necessarily want to make him my No. 2 quarterback in 10- or 12-team leagues, but rather would stash him as a No. 3 QB as my last bench spot. In deeper leagues, he's worth getting for the upside, especially if you're uninspired by some of the other potential backups out there.