Chewing the Fat: Tebow versus Newton

Earlier in the week, TJ brought up among our myriad emails the topic of Cam Newton. The Heisman winner was the center of post-Super Bowl attention as his Thursday circus act public workout approached. Here's how the conversation unfolded:

TJ: I know that Doc wasn't sold on Tebow coming out of college and Ted was higher on him. Given that, is Cam Newton so far above Tebow this year?  From the few games of his I watched and the tape I see now, I fail to see the huge variances between what Newton did at Auburn and what Tebow did at Florida. In short, it's like Newton is talked up as a sure thing and Tebow was considered a sure bust (my interpretation, clearly). What are your thoughts?  Is Newton that much more athletic and stronger armed?

Em: I don't really know how to answer that, TJ, but it's a great question. Since it came up, here's what I saw on Tebow: I didn't think then that taking on a project, at that point in the team's development and with immediate needs abounding, was a good use of the draft picks.

I heard people who thought he was a sure hit and would be ready to start last September, and some who thought he was a sure bust who should play fullback or H-back. I'm in the middle - his level of pocket skills needs a lot of work, and I see and appreciate his skills and athleticism as well as the intangibles. I think that he can be developed, and there's some disagreement on how. 

When we get back to Newton, then, my feelings are less clear. He's got a lot going for him. To me, Newton's motion is far more compact and his arm looks stronger, facts that will help him. Is that more than Tebow? Fine question, and Ted is certainly better qualified than I. I don't see him as being far ahead of Tebow, though. I thought that Tebow was a project, and I still do. Is Newton better or not? I haven't seen enough to give a good answer. Ted?

Ted: I think that Tebow is a significantly better overall athlete than Newton, but that Newton's throwing technique is a little cleaner than Tebow's was at this time last year.  Scouts and quasi-scouts worry a lot about throwing motion - much, much more than is warranted, which is what allowed the Broncos to draft Tebow 25th last year.  As a football player, he was significantly undervalued because of an overblown knock on something that can be coached up, and was.

For the record, I don't think Tebow is a project at all, any more than any other young QB is.  He's a guy who needs reps, in both practices and games.  He needs to get comfortable with his own schemes, and those of the defenses he plays against.  I can tell you, though - from his 3 starts, there's nothing to indicate that his delivery is going to be problematic to actually playing the game.  Tebow showed that he can make every downfield throw that needs to be made, and we know he's a big threat with his feet.  He needs to work on timing, recognition, and hitting the checkdown.  Improving his downfield accuracy is another point of focus, but he showed encouraging signs there.  The three major areas of improvement are all things that young QBs improve at as they get more experience.  Tebow's exceptional athleticism and work ethic, combined with his obvious coachability continue to make me certain that he's going to win Super Bowls in Denver.

Newton is a good athlete, similar to Ben Roethlisberger and Josh Freeman.  He can hurt you with his feet; but with less designed run plays, he won't likely do it as much in the NFL.  The scheme used by Auburn gave Newton a lot of room to run, because it stretched defenses very wide horizontally.  Their primary RB Onterrio McCalebb is very fast and dangerous to the edge, so Auburn would often run him in motion to the right and have Newton catch the shotgun snap right before McCalebb reached the mesh point.  Newton would read the flow of the LBs and either hand off to the right edge or run left himself.  As a runner, Newton is a long-striding glider, kind of like Vince Young.  That style tends to translate poorly to the NFL, because long strides make a guy an easier target when they get caught.  Tebow is a short-striding, quick-footed power runner, more like a RB.

As a thrower, Newton has a solid arm and good accuracy.  He has no pro-style experience, and has never taken snaps from under center.  That was held against Tebow, because it fit the narrative of Todd McShay; but the truth is, it's an issue for every spread QB.  Sam Bradford had to learn how to play from under center, just like Tebow has to get better at it, and like Newton and Blaine Gabbert will as well.  Newton also didn't read any progressions.  I question some of Newton's behavior, and I would look hard at whether it was a kid making dumb mistakes, or if he can be expected to have bad judgment throughout his career.  I also am a bit troubled by the allegations of his academic troubles at Florida.  How smart is Newton?

The other thing to consider is that when they were teammates, Newton was Tebow's backup.  I think both have all the physical ability necessary to be winning NFL QBs, but I'd always take Tebow's intangibles and athleticism over Newton's.

TJ: I liked both yours and Doc's answer quite a lot, actually.  It confirmed my suspicion, which you can see in my question, which is that the Tebow narrative was how he was just a good runner who couldn't translate to the NFL.  And suddenly Cam Newton is a surefire NFL QB.  It seemed strange to me.  I think you are quite right in that the mechanics seems to really set the McShays of the world off.   Your Vince Young comparison really makes it come to light for me.   That stride is exactly the same.  Good observation, my man.

Well, you guys know how I feel about Tebow.  When 60% of the NFL plays break down, I think he's just the type of guy who can extend the pocket and the play.  And I think the most underrated aspect of team sports is leadership.  You just can't value it, other than when you see teams win championships.  Then you say, "Wow, that guy is a leader."  But Tebow has that in vast quantities.

Doug's preliminary work on scoring chances begins to put metrics around this quality.   

Even Xanders can't get it wrong if Tebow is as good as I think he'll be...

Chewing the Fat