I finally saw Tim Tebow play for the first time this year Sunday — and I was just as fascinated by what I didn’t see.
What I didn’t see was the flawed throwing motion he had in college, where he brought the ball down to his hip and kind of looped it around. What I didn’t see was a guy making bad reads. What I didn’t see was a weak arm — in fact, he threw a 50-plus yard bomb on the money and a (even tougher, IMHO) game-winning crossing pattern in which he hit the receiver in the hands at full stride.
And what I really didn’t see was any way to judge Tebow’s long-term chances in the NFL.
If you know nothing about Tebow — and you aren’t paying attention to pro football if you still know nothing about him — he’s really big and really strong and runs like the wind. He also raises questions with his mechanics and short-pass strength, and talk radio loves to love/hate him for his religious fundamentalism.
Still, Tebow and Michael Vick are the only QBs in the NFL who are real threats to run the option, which NFL defensive schemes are just not designed to handle. And Tebow, by virtue of his height, overall size and younger age, has some significant advantages over Vick in the option — and in spotting receivers downfield.
He won the game Sunday when Pittsburgh significantly overplayed the run on a crossing pattern. When the receiver came free, there was no safety there to help out — the safety had been pulled into run coverage and a play-action fake took care of him — and it was a simple footrace to the end zone once Tebow hit the receiver in stride.
Tebow’s pass stats are semi-painful to look at. He’s gone 126 of 271 this year, for 12 touchdowns and six interceptions. Top NFL QB prospects now come in the league and make waves right away, having already learned to make read-and-react decisions and speed the ball out because they ran spread offenses in college. But Tebow ran the option, so it might be instructive to compare him to QBs of a slightly earlier era, where it often took a few years for them to hone their NFL craft after playing a much different college game.
Consider Tebow’s boss, Hall-of-Fame QB John Elway. In his first year, he was 123 of 259 with only seven touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He turned out OK.
Troy Aikman was 155 of 293 his first year, with nine touchdowns and 18 interceptions. Eli Manning, currently one of the top QBs in the NFC and another winner over the weekend, was 95 of 197 with six touchdowns and nine interceptions. I doubt I would have any trouble finding more examples of QBs who needed time to adopt to the NFL, and then became stars.
Tebow is big, strong, fast, smart, has adjusted his mechanics and would appear to have a significant possible upside. He stunk up the joint in several games this year, as novice NFL quarterbacks sometimes do, but even some of those performances featured flashes of brilliance. That is a really positive sign.
My point about all of this: I know that snap judgment is the norm in the modern talk radio and Deadspin world of sports, but it’s going to take time to see what Denver really has in Tebow. He got a little taste of NFL action last year, was wildly inconsistent — but exciting — in his starting role this year and just played a terrific playoff game with everything on the line. I think it will be next year, at least, before we can make a rational assessment of his pro football talents.