No one likes it when an uninvited guest crashes the party. Such is the case in the NFL, where powerful, accurate throwing arms are coveted, and high-flying passing games are now a league-wide norm. Enter Tim Tebow, a 6-foot-3, 236-pound throwback that looks cut directly from black-and-white film of the prehistoric gridiron days.
Coming out of Florida, most every knowledgeable analyst pegged the guy as a sure-fire loser, despite winning the Heisman, a national championship, and generally being considered one of - if not the - best players in college football history. But this is the NFL, and those college tricks just don't work against big, fast athletes and genius defensive coordinators who spend hours upon hours dissecting players' weaknesses. Or do they?
Before the season started, the talking heads had a field day criticizing Tebow, who - at the time - was positioned as the Denver Broncos third-string quarterback. Guys like Merril Hodge, Trent Dilfer and even former Denver Broncos offensive lineman, Mark Schlereth called him a wasted draft pick, without the skills necessary to even justify a spot on an NFL roster - let alone start.
Undaunted by the criticism and supported by a delirious, if possibly delusional, fan base, Tebow kept working; and eventually, cornered by a 1-4 start and heavy fan pressure, John Elway and John Fox had no choice but to move their third-stringer up to first and pray that he failed.
Yes, they wanted him to fail. Of course, they did. A poor performance would have paved the way for a higher draft pick and a potential shot at Andrew Luck or Matt Barkley. It also would have silenced the continuous 'Tim Tebow' chants coming from the home stadium fans. Unfortunately for Elway, Fox and possibly the Broncos fans, themselves, something else happened.
In his first start, Time Tebow proved both the fans and the critics correct. Looking just about as awful as most analysts had predicted, the second-year player drove the Broncos to a game winning score against the Miami Dolphins. The next week, reality seemed to set in, as the Detroit Lions raced out to a huge lead and forced Tebow to play outside of his comfort zone. After that game, the critics had a field day.
Unfortunately, wins over the Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs kept the conversation going. And, then after a dramatic, last-second Tebow-led comeback victory against the New York Jets, the tide seemed to turn in favor of the "delusional" fans.
It was the Jets who supposedly had the defense to stop Tebow; yet they couldn’t do it when it counted most. Now, Tebow's critics were finding themselves having to defend their reasoning, despite its “obvious” soundness. What the hell was happening? How could this college scheme work in the NFL; and how could a guy who throws this poorly succeed against the best athletes in the world?
A reality check
At this time, Tim Tebow is 6-1 as a starter in 2011 and the team is a 3-point favorite against the Chicago Bears on Sunday. His apparent success seems to have proved Denver fans correct; however, a closer look shows otherwise. Tebow's offense has one of the worst third-down conversion percentages in the NFL and it's averaging well under 20 points-per-game (offensive points). Since Kyle Orton was benched, the Broncos' defense has played lights-out for the most part, and Tebow critics have pointed to this as the true reason for the team's success.
However, that same defense was horrible before the team switched quarterbacks, and Tebow's ability to control the clock by running has clearly had an impact by providing rest and better field position. This sort of complementary football has worked for years in the NFL. Unfortunately, it typically results in very close games, and ultimately, despite Tim Tebow's winning attitude; he will inevitably find himself on the wrong end of these scores more than once.
An inability to pull ahead by a comfortable margin isn’t the only problem with Tebow's style of play. Even if all the critics are wrong and the fans prove correct, how long can this last? The guy gets hit on almost every play. How long can he play before his knees give out? Five years? Six? Will he be able to complete a 16-game schedule with all those hits to the head? When a running back gets dinged in the shoulder, he can keep playing. If that happens to Tebow, he won’t be able to throw.
Ultimately, although he's clearly proved that he can play the position well enough to string wins together; Tim Tebow isn’t a Super Bowl caliber quarterback. What's more, his style of play relies too heavily on speed, quickness and physicality. These are a young man's gifts, and they will decline within a handful of years. At that point, what do you have? A guy who must play from the pocket and throw the ball - things he simply cannot do well.
In the short term, Tim Tebow critics look like they couldn't be more wrong; in the long run, they'll be proved right.