What is a Quarterback? Easy: quarterback is a job; and a quarterback is someone who is doing that job. Ah, but what is a quarterback's job? Now this is a more difficult question. Explain in as few words as possible what it is a quarterback is paid to do. Did you think of "win games"? How about: "throw a ball"? "make big plays"? Maybe you said "lead his team." Or perhaps you went with the more generic "play football." Maybe a quarterback must do all of these things. Must he be exceptional at them all to be successful in the NFL? Which aspect can be sacrificed if some of the others are abundant? Which definition(s) simply cannot be deficient if one expects to play at a high level? These are the types of questions one must ask when they try to understand Tim Tebow.
The point is: maybe the definition of a quarterback isn't as clearly defined and narrow in scope as it seems. Anti-Tebow stalwarts have been arguing for a while now about Tebow's completion percentage and wobbly passes and how he has had games where he has looked so awful under center that it they can't believe he is in the league. They make a lot of good points, but the problem is it just always sounds so subjective to me. I think the first time Tebow defied his critics was the NFL combine. I think there were dozens of 'experts' there who were just looking for any tiny measurable weakness to harp on. They were hoping he would have slow running times or come up shorter than expected or have tiny hands. When none of those panned out, they just increased the criticism of his throwing motion. We've all seen guys like Bernie Kosar and Phil Rivers have a lot of success in this league with ugly throwing motions, but Tebow's motion was certainly going to cause problems for him, since it was a whole 200ms slower than league average. (/sarchasm)
I just don't understand it. Tebow is objectively the best passer in SEC history. Not in volume, mind you. In efficiency. (source)
Ok, fine. Those are college stats. They don't always translate to the pros, we all know that. Though before the draft I'd much rather rely on that sort of thing than pure outdated eyeball scouting. The same scouts that hate Tebow anointed guys like JaMarcus the Hutt, Tim Couch, Ryan Leaf, Jimmy Clausen and overlooked guys like Brady, Brees, even Aaron Rodgers.
Nevertheless, the NFL is a whole new ballgame, as rufio is so often reminding me. Lets compare what Tebow did in a limited sample in 2011. (under literally the most difficult conditions possible: Coach and GM had zero faith in him; he basically had to battle tooth and nail for his job twice and once he had it he was one mistake away from the bench and had to basically produce a late game miracle every week just to keep his job. Plus the coaching staff was nearly clueless how to use him, forcing him under center for 3 quarters every week and only running rudimentary versions of the spread offense that Tebow himself had to teach to his own coaching staff.)
2011 Tebow (including playoffs):
14 td (4.4%)
6 int (1.8%)
12 td (3.4%)
10 int (2.85%)
2012 Andrew Luck (weeks 1-10 *to control sample size*):
10 td (2.76%)
9 int (2.49%)
*In limiting Luck's sample size, I have actually improved his stats by eliminating his 3 int game against NE*
Yes, Tebow was a 47% passer last season. But does it really matter? Based on this sample if you give all of these guys 40 passes (about one game) your expected production looks like this:
Tebow: 19-40 for 274.4 yards, 1.76 TDs and 0.72 Ints
Sanchez: 22-40 for 267.2 yards, 1.36 TDs and 1.14 Ints
Luck: 23-40 for 290.8 yards, 1.08 TDs and 0.996 Ints
The guy who 'sucks', stacks up fairly well against the guy who "gives us the best chance to win" and the other guy who is the 'most polished pro-ready QB prospect ever'
I think the key statistic is Tebow's uncanny ability to protect the ball (Among the lowest INT rates among qualifying starters last year) and low bad decision rate (1.5% last year, 2.0% is considered elite). Which prompted KC Joyner (the only pundit I have much respect for) to pen an article defending Tebow (insider only).
Meanwhile, Tebow has a lot of strengths people don't talk about (especially mentally, he is much more clever and football smart than people give him credit for) He hasn't had a good chance to establish himself as a passer with a coach who knows what to do with him since he was at florida. Urban knew exactly how to get him on the field his freshman year while still letting him mature into the passing game. Now he has had 3 offensive coordinators in 3 years and none of them have had the slightest inkling how to maximize his talents.
His low turnover rates were due in part to the fact that he was playing last year to avoid turnovers at all costs (his 1.5% bad decision rate was a full percent lower than his career number at florida, but his yards per attempt was also down by nearly a third of what he did in college). Fact is: john fox was playing absolutely to avoid risk and not to lose, terrified that Tebow's inaccuracy would mean turnovers. Meanwhile the opposite is true: Tebow realized that he was never more than one or two INTs from being benched so he played to avoid risk and protect the football, which he accomplished. We saw a bit later in the season (as the coaches trusted Tebow just a tiny bit more) them begin to try and unleash perhaps his best talent: down the field vertical passing. The results were mixed, as tebow occasionally wasn't on the same page as his receivers but as we saw he was able to put a few balls right down the chimney and hit big plays (the 56 yard strike to decker against KC sticking out in my mind) I think if you get the right system, his rare ability to stretch the field deep with downfield accuracy is a huge xfactor in any run-first offense.
And remember, this so far has been all about his passing, which I'll freely admit is the weakest part of his game still. Tebow can also contribute meaningfully in the running game. Denver had the #1 rushing offense in the NFL last season, due in no small part to Tebow's running and option ability. Tebow doesn't get enough credit for his running prowess: He isn't just a pounding inside bulldozer, and nor is he just an unpolished athlete like Cam Newton and Michael Vick. He is a patient runner with exceptional vision (better than the vast majority of tailbacks in the league). Combine that with the fact that the guy is remarkably successful in short yardage, you have a pretty potent combination of talent if he was just a running back!
On top of that? Tebow wasn't doing this all in garbage time! Tebow didn't just put a 1-4 team into meaningful December games; While he did get help from his teammates improving their play around him, Tebow was clearly at the center of an immediate culture change in Denver. It was clear to everyone there that when this guy is suiting up in your colors, you've got a chance in every game. Tebow had periods where he struggled, to be sure. So do all young quarterbacks when the first get into the league. When the offense isn't really designed to maximize your talents it can only make it even harder. Those guys in that locker room do deserve a share of the credit for what the team accomplished last year, but in their hearts they know that the team was hoisted on Tebow's back and they were going nowhere fast without him. You show me another unproven first or second year QB who can walk into that situation and duplicate that success, I'll say you have a pretty special player.
I just don't understand why this guy doesn't get a break. Nobody argues that he was inexperienced and needs more time to pan out. He is constantly ridiculed and dismissed. I realize how going to the jets has just vastly overexposed him in that disgusting media feeding frenzy, but I also think he deserves another chance. He has earned that hasn't he? As far as I'm concerned, he certainly has a lot of talent and he has shown enough promise to warrant a starting job. Nobody handed him the reigns of a team the way they did with Luck, RG3, Mark Sanchez, even Tannehill and Weeden. He went out and earned a shot with two different coaching staffs in Denver (and certainly should have done so again this season if the Jets coaching staff was even remotely reasonable) and when he did receive extended playing time, he played pretty well.
I'm not saying that he is ever going to be the methodical precision passer that Brady or Manning is, but I'll tell you this: he scares defenses. Maybe not quite the way RG3 does right now, but the way he can create plays and excitement with his legs and deep ball is a lot more fun to have on your side. I'll always root for him because of the way he can make big play out of nothing. And I love a guy who just doesn't fit into the system quite the way everyone thinks he should. Those are the guys you always remember. And if somebody ever gets him in a system that takes full advantage of all of his talents (like Meyer did at Florida) look out. It could be really special.