Happy Friday, friends. My Tuesday article seemed to spur a lot of comments calling for Kyle Orton to remain (or re-emerge as, depending on how you look at it) the starting Quarterback for the Denver Broncos in 2011. That wasn’t really what I was driving at, and I find it interesting that the discussion took that turn.
The fact is, I am convinced that Tim Tebow should be the starting QB for the Broncos in 2011. I don’t even think it’s a difficult decision, actually, and Tebow gives Denver the best chance to win in both the near- and long-term.
I’m a Florida Gators fan, owing mostly to my six years spent in Jacksonville, when I kind of fully caught college football fever. I’ve seen a lot of Gators football over the last decade, so I know these guys very well. That said, I’m never a homer just to be a homer, in terms of evaluating the pro potential of Florida players. For example, I never would have told you that Chris Leak, a good college QB who started for four years and won a national championship, had the size or arm to be an NFL QB. He didn’t, and as such, he’s not in the NFL.
I mention this because I’ve been publicly saying for years that Tim Tebow would be a championship QB in the NFL, and I’ve basically staked my reputation on it, to the extent that an analyst can ever be fairly judged holistically on one evaluation. I’m that certain that I’m right, and what Tebow showed on the field over the last three games of 2010 made me that much more sure.
When I think of a QB, I think dually in terms of skills and limitations. You can think of it as a plus-minus method of analysis. There are basic mechanical tasks that a QB must be able to do in order to be successful. I’m talking about things like taking a snap from under center, having the balance to pivot as needed on a running play, catching a shotgun snap, seeing small details from 30 yards away, and being able to throw a football with adequate power and accuracy to beat NFL defenders and schemes.
If you can’t do those things, you can’t play in the NFL, not even as a backup. That’s the minimum required skill set. Of the 90 or so QBs in the NFL, every one of them has proven to be able to do this basic stuff.
From there, I get into limitations. What can’t a guy do, that you’d prefer an NFL QB to be able to do? Right now, Tim Tebow can’t drill the deep out like the most elite spinners of the football can, especially throwing to his right and across his body. Since we know that Tebow is the strongest-bodied QB in the NFL, and probably in NFL history, I think it stands to reason that as his lower-half technique continues to improve (and it has, from his college days), he’ll improve his velocity on the deep out. The cottage-dwellers of the Draft act like a QB’s velocity is a finished product as soon as he hits the NFL, but that’s nonsense. Nearly all NFL QBs improve their velocity as they gain experience and benefit from full-time NFL-level coaching. Drew Brees and Matt Ryan are classic examples of QBs who started out with below-average outside velocity but improved to being average with it. It’s very likely that Tebow does the same.
To be clear, I believe that velocity on the deep out is Tebow’s only perceptible physical limitation, and that it’s improvable, expecially given Tebow’s age, newness to pro-style QB coaching, and exceptional physical strength and athleticism. Meanwhile, Kyle Orton has a major limitation with slow feet. He’s also not elite on the deep out, and he struggles with accuracy and with effectively reducing his velocity throwing short passes. The short throwing problems can be corrected with reps and coaching, but I have begun to doubt whether Orton really has the capability to improve in that area. Having just finished his sixth NFL season, it’s a valid question.
The lack of foot quickness is more troubling, because it’s likely not correctable, without a huge focus on that single aspect of his game. Tom Brady had awful feet coming out of college, and he worked really hard to improve in that area as a young NFL player. Now, Brady’s footwork is exceptional, due equally to technique and improved physical capability, and he escapes a lot of pass rush trouble because of the work he put in. Brady may look like he wants to be a celebrity, but the dude has worked his behind off at being a great football player throughout his career.
I’ve never heard Orton described as a particularly hard worker by anybody, and again, at age 28 (29 in November), and after six NFL seasons, I suspect that Orton is as we see him. He’s a guy who can be effective with excellent protection, a heavily scripted downfield-intensive passing concept, and a lot of play-action. I think he’s as good as Jay Cutler, but that neither of them will probably ever be the great player that you mostly need to win Super Bowls.
After limitations come value-added capabilities. Can the QB do things that stand out from his peers? With Tebow, this is where you get into the most interesting stuff. His running ability as a QB is simply elite, and we’ve all already seen that at work. You’ll hear the hand-wringing about how you don’t want your QB running and getting hit, and all that, but it’s stupid. More capabilities are always better than fewer capabilities. I don’t want Tebow running 25-30 times per game like he did in college, but I think that 8-10 is appropriate and value-adding, especially as we start seeing 4-5 bonus first downs per game off of scrambles. That is going to change the way defenses have to play the Broncos and open up the coverage downfield. I’m telling you, as a pure runner, only Michael Vick is more dangerous than Tebow, and Tebow is much bigger and more durable than Vick is. He can definitely handle 160 carries per season, especially as he picks his spots to slide.
The other big thing about Tebow is that his intangibles for the QB position are just off the charts. We’re talking about Tebow being superior to some of the greatest QBs of all time in this area, specifically when it comes to competitiveness, work ethic, leadership, and toughness. Now, if you can’t do the small things, this will never matter, but Tebow can do all of the small things, and he’s going to improve his effectiveness with them through reps and coaching.
By getting this football character stuff so right, I don’t believe that Tebow will ever be a losing player. Personally, I was excited with how competitive the Broncos’ offense was in the last three games of the 2010 season. If the defense was better, that could have easily been three wins, and a lot more recognition of how well Tebow played. The Broncos averaged 21.5 points per game in 2010, which was 19th-best in the NFL. Under Orton, it was 20.6 ppg. Under Tebow (with an admittedly small sample size), it was 25 ppg. If the Broncos can deliver 25 points per game for a whole season and play average defense, that’s the profile of a 10-6 football team, in the mix for a Wild Card spot . Improve to having a top-third defense, probably over a couple of seasons, and you have the formula for a serious contender.
I believe strongly that Tim Tebow can do everything physically necessary to be a championship QB in the NFL. I believe that the intangibles that he brings to the table will overcome the minor mechanical shortcomings that we sometimes see on a play here or there. His willingness to work and capacity to learn and improve will rule the day. More than anything, though, I believe that this guy is more than ready to play right now. At no moment of Tebow’s rookie season did he ever look confused, scared, or unprepared. His mistakes were errors of recognition, technique, and timing, which will certainly improve with coaching and experience. The game is emphatically not too fast for Tim Tebow, and now is his time.
In making the choice between Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow, it’s all very simple. With Orton, you have a mostly competent and steady guy with some serious playing limitations which have to be adjusted for in your scheme. (No bootlegs, few screens, little short passing, lots of max protection, etc.) With Tebow, you have a guy with one minor physical limitation that he’s likely to improve upon, and with a couple of value-added capabilities. As much as his playbook was limited at the end of 2010, especially against Oakland, Tebow is actually going to be the guy that you can do a lot more with, in terms of threatening a defense. I’m all for open competition, but I’m pretty sure that Tebow is going to win if that’s what happens. People will say it’s a one-year audition, but I’m pretty sure it’s going to turn into a 15-year Broncos career with several Super Bowl championships to his name.