ESPN Draft Night: The ballad of Tim Tebow

If I were a betting man – and from time to time, I may happen to indulge in a wager or two – I wouldn’t bet against Tim Tebow.

Ask anyone who knows anything about college football, and you’ll get a variety of responses regarding Tebow. Draft geeks like Mel Kiper Jr. thinks that his NFL future rides on him becoming an H-back at the next level. Gator fans and alumni believe he can heal the sick and walk on water. Fans of teams in blue states roll their eyes when Tebow is the star of Pro-Life commercials and openly talks about his Creationist beliefs.

And then there are the NFL scouts – the cells comprising the collective brains of each NFL GM – who have a laundry list of criticisms which they’ll readily levy when discussing him: he’s a tad too short, he lacks arm strength, his accuracy is questionable, he’s got a longer wind-up than an old jack-in-the-box, and he played from the shotgun for most of his collegiate career.

So you then end up with one of the most celebrated, gutty, and inspirational football players in a generation being considered a 2nd round pick, at best, with any team having the audacity to select him even late in the 1st round sure to be skewered and ridiculed by draftniks and scouts alike.

But here’s the thing – and I like to call this the “Fox News Corrollary” – if you say something over and over, even if it’s a bold faced lie, people will start to take it for truth. So you end up with a bunch of people regurgitating that same list of knocks against Tebow, not considering the fact that when you put an inordinate amount of stock into arm strength and prototypical NFL size measurements, you end up with Akili Smith being drafted in the top 3 picks, ahead of perennial Pro Bowlers Champ Bailey and Torry Holt. It’s how a team overlooks a can’t-miss prospect like Adrian Peterson, and ends up drafting Jamarcus Russell. Ask Raider fans how that worked out for them, especially those with season tickets, who are directly helping fund Russell’s haphazard work ethic (to put it nicely), expanding waist line, and an addiction to something called “purple juice.”

When it comes to scouting quarterbacks, a lot of scouts put too much stock in dogmatic doctrines of arm strength and height, instead of just seeing the obvious: Tebow is a winner, a hard worker, a student of football, and a model citizen. He’s strong enough to absorb punishment at the next level, and he has proven that he’s the type of player that his teammates will rally around.

So when it comes to Tebow, I say “To hell with the scouting reports.” Scouting reports get Akili Smith drafted among the top 3 selections, and let Drew Brees slide out of the first round altogether. Placing an emphasis on arm strength and athleticism over work ethic and guts gets Jack Thompson and Steve Fuller drafted ahead of some guy named Joe Montana.

If a team takes Tebow, they won’t regret it. And let me be clear: I’m not saying that Tim Tebow is going to get to the NFL and evolve into a perrenial 4,000 yard passer, or will orchestrate an offensive air show like Dan Fouts, Dan Marino, or Peyton Manning. As hard as the guy works, I still don’t see him becoming that type of player at the next level, not only because of his physical limitations, but because that’s just not his style.

When projecting Tebow at the next level, I say think of a cross between Ben Roethlisberger and Jake Delhomme, or a really rich man’s David Garrard. Or, how about this: an eerily similar 2nd coming of Steve McNair: a player with the heart of a lion and was built like an H1 Hummer, never threw for more than 3400 yards or 24 TD’s in any season during his career, yet took his team to the Super Bowl and was a NFL co-MVP.

McNair and Tebow are roughly the same size, and the former had very similar question marks coming into the NFL as the latter: Can he really be a quarterback, and is he capable of running a sophisticated offense at the next level? Or did he just rely on being that much more gifted than his competition?

One has every reason to believe that Tebow will flop at the next level, given the fact that he’s entering the NFL draft riding a tidal wave of being arguably the most celebrated college football player in the history of the sport. You can easily blame human nature for any person starting to believe in their own press clippings, especially when everyone in your native state (save for a 50-mile radius surrounding Tallahassee and Coral Gables) believes you’re the living embodiment of Touchdown Jesus.

Again, I wouldn’t bet on that.

Tebow’s intangibles and work ethic are as good as any prospect in the history of the NFL draft. He is the type of guy who lives to compete, does whatever it takes to get better, and will take losses personally. When he gave the now famous decree of “nobody will work harder than I will” after Florida lost to Ole Miss in ’08, you believed him.

While the talking heads are too busy talking about how Tebow will have to switch positions at the next level, he’s impressing coaches and personnel men with his level of football intelligence, which shouldnt be all that surprising, given that he’s the rare superstar that stayed in college for all four years.

The fact that Tebow is working to significantly overhaul his throwing delivery – which has previously brought him a fair degree of success at the collegiate level – says something about his willingness to do whatever it takes to be better. He defies the traditional mentality of NFL prospects who think they can still succeed at the next level despite major fundamental flaws and setbacks.

Ironically, though, the worst that can happen to him, in my opinion, is for some team to draft him in the first round and anoint him the starting QB from day 1 – say, some team like the Jaguars, who already has Florida Governor Charlie Crist lobbying for them to select Tebow and make him the savior of that ignored franchise.

As gifted as Tebow is, he’s still developing as a QB; in scout speak, he’s more “raw” than a rare-cooked Filet Mignon. At times, it’s evident that he’s still more of a “thrower” than a polished passer.

Tebow is certainly worth drafting in the first round, if you’re going to commit a “redshirt” year for him and don’t throw him into the fire from day 1. At best, he should be used the way he was his freshman year in Gainesville: a few snaps a game, max, usually in gimmick situations, or if/when his team is ahead comfortably or getting blown out. Which is perfect: let him dip his toes in the water from time to time, adjust to the speed and complexity of NFL defenses, and then let him take care of the rest through his diligence and work ethic those six days between game day.

Otherwise, while the the first team QB of whoever drafts him is getting all the reps with the offense, Tebow needs to be holding the clipboard and absorbing everything he can.

Why? Because Tebow the type of guy that’s going to find any taxi-squad receiver or corner that will play catch with him for hours on end, perfecting his new throwing motion. He’s going to study the playbook as if he were the starting QB. He’s going to soak up all the constructive criticisms his coaches give him, and beg for more.

Any team smart and patient enough to allow this is going to get a tremendous return on their investment.

Tebow may not be as “NFL ready” as a prospect like Jimmy Clausen, who is almost unanimously considered a top 10 pick, but if asked me that, in 5 years from now, who will be the better NFL quarterback, I’d say Tim Tebow, without hesitation.

Let’s put it this way: if I told you that Tebow is going to have a career reminiscent of something between Jake Delhomme’s and Steve McNair’s, versus Jimmy Clausen, who is on his way towards having a career reminiscent of J.P. Losman, who would you rather take? Both guys arrived to their schools amidst ridiculous hype and fanfare. One talked about winning multiple national championships and multiple Heisman trophies, and won neither; he also was 1-2 in any bowl games, and cost his head coach his job by missing a bowl altogether his last season in South bend. Conversely, Tebow did his talking on the field, and in the one instance where he really said something noteworthy, it was engraved in his school’s athletic facility as inspiration for his fellow student-athletes.

Which goes to show that to Tebow, talk and hype are cheap, even if it involves him. He’s willing to work for his success in life and do whatever it takes. When you count him out, the harder he’s going to work to prove you wrong.

And the beauty of it is: if he succeeds at the NFL level, he’s going to be the last person to tell you “I told you so.”

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