The word that seems to come up these days in every piece about Tim Tebow is "polarizing." He is either a once in a lifetime talent whose unique skills are not appreciated or an overrated quarterback who will be exposed. It is only fair for me to offer my take.
I think part of the reason Tebow is so polarizing is the ungodly amount of hype he gets, most notably from ESPN. He gets the Favre treatment. Everything he does gets broken down from every direction. I think there are plenty of reasons this has happened. He was the centerpiece of absurdly talented and successful teams at the University of Florida. He has a unique style, that of a power running quarterback. He carries himself well. For all the controversy his openness about his belief in God generates, Tebow does seem to legitimately walk the walk, taking time to help less fortunate abroad. He is also a world class showboater on the field when he makes a play. He draws attention to himself better than anybody this side of Terrell Owens. Since he comes off as a good guy, people tend to brush it off. All of these things make him an interesting guy and generate the hype.
What are his prospects to succeed in the pros? He is 3-1 starting this year, but his passing numbers are stunningly terrible. He has not had a single game in which he completed even half his passes this year, and he is averaging under six yards per pass attempt. Next to him, Mark Sanchez looks like Peyton Manning throwing the ball.
More after the jump.
The Broncos have adopted a spread option offense similar to the one Tebow ran at Florida. Is this an offense built to his unique ability? In a way, yes, but in a bigger way it is an offense built to hide Tebow.
What the Broncos are really running is an extreme version of a ground and pound attack. They ran it over 85% of the time in their last game. Tebow is such a liability throwing the ball that they cannot afford to have him put the ball up. Running teams usually do not have high scoring offenses. This is logic. A great running back averages five yards per run. A terrible quarterback usually averages six yards per pass attempt. More big plays are made through the air than on the ground. Teams that cannot throw efficiently thus struggle to score. Their best hope is to control the ball on the ground to limit the other team's chances with the ball, which keeps the game low scoring.
This can conceivably work to a degree. Close games are frequently decided by a break here or a break there. Luck evens out over time. A team will get its share of breaks and win its share of close games. The problem is that a team will also lose its share of close games when luck turns against it. Such a team can have good years. A team like this can even make a big run like the Jets in 2009. A team like this will, however, struggle to become dominant over the long haul. Having an elite offense means blowing teams out and eliminating luck from the equation. These teams win a ton of games.
I do not think the Broncos are grooming Tebow to be their guy of the future. I think they are showing their fans how limited he is so that the fans will allow them to move on. If the Broncos were serious about moving forward with Tebow and turning him into an elite player, he probably would not be playing right now. He still needs a ton of work. The offense he played at Florida did not prepare him for the NFL. He was so physically dominant that teams loaded up trying to stop him. He never had to go through progressions against complicated defensive looks. He was such a threat as a runner that teams had to account for him, which gave guys like Percy Harvin and Aaron Hernandez favorable matchups that turned into easy pitches and catches. Tebow put up great statistic throwing in college, but that was why. It was also because one of Florida's bread and butter plays was for Tebow to run to the edge, draw as many defenders as possible up, and flip a shovel pass to Herndanez with a ton of room with defenders caught up field.
Reading complicated coverages and going through progressions was a foreign concept to Tebow. So were proper mechanics. He seldom had to take snaps under center and use proper footwork dropping back. Also of note is his elongated delivery, which is an enormous problem in the NFL because throwing lanes close quickly, and balls need to be delivered on time. Even a split second late means an incompletion or an interception.
Due to this, turning Tebow into a quality quarterback pretty much means going back to square one. He needs to have tendencies he picked up for over a decade beaten out of him and for him to repeat the correct thing over and over. It also means he would have to learn the nuiances of NFL coverages. This could take years. It would best be done on the practice field where it could go step by step. Again, to be a dominant team in the NFL, you have to be able to throw very successfully. That is the issue with Mark Sanchez as you well know. By putting Tebow in and installing this offense built on the run, Denver really is not showing any effort to develop him. You might say they built an offense around his unique running talents, but they would not run this system if he could still run like this but also throw like Tom Brady. There is a reason for that.
It is possible to have a degree of success without the ability to throw. Every other part of the team must work. The worse the passing attack is, the better every other aspect must be. Having a quarterback capable of running between the tackles might make Denver a bit more effective relying only on the run and give defenses more to think about. They can win some games, but Tebow will never be a top end quarterback unless he improves as a passer to an incredible degree. He might be the worst in the league today and one of the worst ever. The quarterback will hold their team back. It's great that he is a winner and has a work ethic, but for the first time in his life, he is not so much better than his opposition that he can simply will himself to succeed.