|When it comes to Tebow's pro prospects, there are only strong opinions. (US Presswire)|
They're scared around the NFL. They must be. And they should be. A number of experts -- prominent former players and coaches -- have staked their reputation to the concept that Tim Tebow will fail as a starting quarterback.
And we're about to find out if they're right.
Last season doesn't count, because last season was mop-up duty. Tebow started the final three games of Denver's lost 2010 season against three teams that were playing out the string as well. That wasn't an audition -- that was cleanup on aisle six, and Tebow cleaned up OK. He completed exactly half his passes, which isn't good, but he averaged 16 yards per completion, which is tremendous. (Peyton Manning's career-best mark was 13.6, in his MVP season of 2004.) Tebow also ran for at least 78 yards in two of those three starts, and he scored one rushing touchdown in all three games. Not bad.
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But not enough to cement his reputation as a quarterback in the NFL -- or undermine the reputation of all those experts who say he isn't.
But soon we'll find out, and what would be refreshing would be for all of those experts to leave Tim Tebow alone between now and the rest of the season. Not that Tebow would be affected by their criticism, because he wouldn't. Unlike Kyle Orton, who cracked under the pressure applied to him by Tebow-loving Broncos fans, Tebow seems impervious to external forces. Say what you want about his faith and even his religion, but Tebow is unshakeable. It's remarkable, really.
It will serve him well, too, because the doubters will be out in full force. Men like Jimmy Johnson, Boomer Esiason, Merril Hoge and Trent Dilfer -- smart men, smart football men -- are on record as saying Tebow can't play in this league. They have relinquished neither that opinion nor their platforms, so between now and Oct. 23, when Tebow starts for the Broncos at Miami, expect the doubters to say their piece.
And their piece will probably be harsh. Tebow almost never inspires tepid commentary. He's either capable of improving your life with a five-minute conversation, as Thom Brennaman famously gushed in 2009, or he's a heretic, as I infamously wrote a few months ago.
We'll get back to me in a minute. First, more on the strong opinions Tebow has always generated. Before the 2010 draft, Fox analyst Jimmy Johnson didn't merely predict Tebow would struggle as an NFL quarterback; he said Tebow should switch to tight end. "He's got to play another position," Johnson told Sporting News Radio. "He can't play quarterback."
In August, CBS analyst Boomer Esiason said of Tebow, "He can't play. He can't throw."
ESPN's Hoge took to Twitter this preseason to mock anyone who thought Tebow should start over Kyle Orton: "It's embarrassing to think the Broncos could win with Tebow!!"
It's not just analysts. Even after Tebow was one of the most decorated college quarterbacks in NCAA history -- two national titles, one Heisman Trophy -- he was rated by most teams as a mid-round pick, at best, until the Broncos shockingly took him late in the first round.
Which means the Broncos are set up to be the smartest people in the room, should Tebow succeed at starter. And all the doubters, big and small, are set up to look stupid. Does that include me? To some people, yes. See, there are people out there -- simpleton Tebow devotees -- who equate criticism of any aspect of Tebow as criticism of everything Tebow. Look, I've been getting their emails. Here's one I received after Tebow nearly sparked the Broncos to a fourth-quarter comeback on Sunday against San Diego. It came from someone named Bill:
Tebow Hater. Hahahahaha. Good call. You suck Gregg.
Here's another, from someone named Mike:
Hey Doyel! How's that Tebow hating feeling now?
Thing is, I've gone out of my way to defer to the experts -- including Denver coach John Fox, who wouldn't even concede that Tebow had beaten our Brady Quinn for the backup job this preseason -- when it comes to Tebow's prospects in the NFL. Tebow's release? His arm strength? His ability to scan defenses and find a secondary receiver? Analyzing that stuff goes way beyond my skill set, and I've never pretended otherwise. The closest thing I've written on Tebow's prospects as a pro was this story after his magical Sugar Bowl performance, a game so great that I suggested he retire from football rather than becoming a mediocre pro.
So I guess that means I'm on the hook, too. If Tebow becomes a great pro, if he makes it to Pro Bowl after Pro Bowl, that story of mine from January 2010 looks silly. Retire after college? Tebow? What a stupid idea that was.
Lots of us are on the hook right now. So is John Fox, I might add. He's the guy who wouldn't anoint Tebow as the backup, much less the starter, for several weeks. He's the guy who refused to promote Tebow over the struggling Orton until Orton was so miserable against San Diego -- 6 of 13 for 34 yards and a barely legal quarterback rating of 21.0 -- that Fox had no choice.
If Tebow becomes a star, Fox was the moron who couldn't see it until Orton forced his hand.
If Tebow becomes a star, Jimmy Johnson is the idiot who said Tebow needed to switch positions. Boomer Esiason is an idiot who said Tebow can't throw. Merril Hoge. Trent Dilfer. Steve Beuerlein. CBSSports.com's own Pete Prisco. And Mike Freeman.
If Tebow becomes a star, lots of us are going to look all kinds of dumb, me included. Nothing to do now but watch and wait, but I can't wait to see how this thing plays out. Like him or not, and I've gone both ways on it, Tim Tebow is the most fascinating figure in sports.