The Case for Tim Tebow, NFL Quarterback

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jun 11, 2013



The New England Patriots on Saturday announced that they cut cultural lightning rod quarterback Tim Tebow. As we said back in June, and on numerous radio shows since, we didn't expect him to make the roster in New England. It was a bad fit for him. But a lot of teams would be better with Tebow on the roster. He deserves a shot to play in the NFL. Below are the reasons why.

Also see: "Tebow could have saved 5 GMs, 7 coaches, 9 teams."

By Kerry J. Byrne
Cold, Hard Football Facts vestal virgin (@footballfacts)

The Cold, Hard Football Facts love Tim Tebow not because we suffer the weakness of human emotion. We don’t.

A pile of used Buffalo wing bones feels more emotion than we do.

Instead, we love Tebow because he’s a fascinating statistical storyline, a cultural lightning rod and a seemingly too-good-to-be-true off-field persona.

But mostly we love the fact that he so clearly challenges tired old conventional NFL wisdom and so routinely embarrasses the so-called pigskin “pundits” who openly mock him and refuse to give him a legit shot.

The reality is that Tebow deserves a shot to play quarterback in the NFL. He does not deserve that shot in New England.  He’ll never be good enough to replace Tom Brady. But few quarterbacks in history would be.

But he does deserve a shot to play the position even if we have little confidence that shot will ever come.

Tebow is certainly a better more productive QB than half the schmucks allowed to lead NFL teams today.

He should get that shot ... somewhere. Here’s the case for Tim Tebow, NFL quarterback:

ONE - Tebow has started just 16 NFL games

People mock Tebow’s passing capabilities. He's never going to throw with the pinpoint accuracy of Drew Brees or Peyton Manning.

But Tebow's critics seem to forget that he is still a very inexperienced quarterback. Yes, he’s entering his fourth NFL season – assuming he makes the New England roster or any other roster for that matter.

But he’s started just 16 games in those previous three seasons. Essentially, he has just one year of experience under his belt. Few quarterbacks look like big-time players after just 16 NFL games.

Hello, Mark Sanchez is a laughingstock who clearly can't play in the NFL. He posted a dismal 55.3 Real QB Rating in 2012. Yet he's been given 68 starts to prove he can't play. And Sanchez's production is still light years behind what Tebow has shown in his limited time on the field.

Hell, Peyton Manning didn’t look like a big-time player after just 16 NFL games, either. Manning, in his first 16 starts, threw 28 INT, completed just 56.7 percent of his passes and posted a fairly dismal 71.2 passer rating for the 3-13 Colts.

Not saying that Tebow is Peyton Manning. He’s not. He never will be. But Peyton Manning wasn’t Peyton Manning after 16 NFL games, either.

Tebow has something in common with Indy’s newest QB phenom, by the way: Tebow led the most inaccurate passing team in the NFL in 2011, the Denver Broncos. Andrew Luck led the most inaccurate passing team in the NFL in 2012. 

TWO - Tebow wins games

Despite that inexperience, Tebow’s teams have gone 8-6 in the regular season and 1-1 in the postseason. That’s 9-7, for those of you keeping score at home.

The history of the NFL is littered with great quarterbacks who failed to win nine of their first 16 starts.

The reality is that, in the short time we've seen him play, Tebow has proven that he makes his team better and the players around him better. That ability is the single most important factor in sports, and especially in a team game like football, and most especially for the QB position, which is judged by wins and losses.

To discount that ability is to discount the sole purpose for playing sports, period.

THREE - Tebow won games with a bad team and very bad defense

Tebow not only won in 2011 with the Denver Broncos, he won with a very bad Broncos team. Denver went 4-12 in 2010 and kicked off the 2011 season with a 1-4 record.

That’s a 5-16 team, for those of you keeping score at home.

Enter Tim Tebow.

That awful 5-16 team suddenly went 7-1 in its first eight games with Tebow at starter, reached the playoffs and knocked off the NFL’s best defense from Pittsburgh in the wildcard round before finally falling apart in the divisional round at New England.

The anti-Tebow crowd tells us that the Denver defense carried the Broncos to the playoffs in 2011.

The anti-Tebow crowd is filled with idiots, hucksters, transients and railroad bums.

The 2011 Broncos finished the year No. 24 in scoring defense and surrendered 40 or more points in four of Tebow’s 13 starts that season, including three of his last five. Tom Brady, Johnny Unitas and Joe Montana don’t win games when their defense surrenders 40+ points. It’s unreasonable to expect Tebow to win those games, either.

The 2011 Broncos also finished the year No. 28 in Defensive Passer Rating (93.12), a number which usually precludes teams from reaching the playoffs, and intercepted just nine passes all season. In fact, only two teams in the history of the NFL reached the playoffs with a Defensive Passer Rating worse than the one Tebow was paired with in 2011.

It was quite literally something close to a statistical miracle that the 2011 Broncos reached the playoffs with that defense.

By the way, it’s worth noting that Tebow carried the Broncos as far into the playoffs in 2011 as Peyton Manning did in 2012.

Just sayin'.

FOUR - Tebow has a cannon

It may not be an accurate cannon, at least we haven’t seen accuracy yet in the NFL. But Tebow's arm is a cannon just the same.

The world saw that cannon in Denver’s win over Pittsburgh in the 2011 wildcard playoffs.

Tebow set not one but two postseason NFL records that day (min. 20 attempts): his average of 15.05 yards per pass attempts was the best in NFL history; so, too, was his 31.6 yards per completion.

You don’t produce the most explosive passing day in NFL postseason history, against the NFL’s No. 1 defense that season, without a cannon for an arm.

The raw talent is certainly there to make big plays.

FIVE - Tebow is far more statistically proficient than he’s given credit for.

The average NFL fan or analyst judges a quarterback merely by his passing abilities. And we understand why: NFL games are won and lost almost exclusively by a QB’s ability to pass the football efficiently.

In fact, we’ve written about this phenomenon incessantly for years.

But Tebow clearly plays a different game: padding often inefficient days passing the football with highly efficient performances running the ball, while generally keeping turnovers at a very low rate.

His 2.7 percent turnover rate (15 in 559 touches) is not only good, it’s one of the best in the history of football. CHFF’s Captain Comeback looked at the career turnover rate of every QB in NFL history back in November.

Tebow doesn’t yet qualify for the list (min. 1,500 attempts). But among qualifiers, only Aaron Rodgers was better at protecting the football. 

Tebow also rates much higher than just his passing numbers would indicate if you look at him through the prism of CHFF Real QB Rating, which measures all aspects of QB play, not just passing.

Tebow’s career Real QB Rating of 81.2 would have been good enough for 12th in the NFL last year – better than the Real QB Rating of every single team that fired a coach or GM.

Keep in mind that Real QB Rating may be the most important stat in football: Teams that won the Real QB Rating battle went 218-37 (.855) in 2012, consistent with year-after-year results. No stat in football has a higher “Correlation to Victory.”

Put another way: Tebow is better than anyone realizes in the single most important stat in football, other than final score.

SIX - Tebow is the greatest QB in SEC history; and maybe the greatest player in college football history.

We all know that great college success does not always translate to pro success. But we do know that the SEC is the best, most competitive conference in all of college football.

Year after year, the SEC wins the national championship and sends more players to the NFL than any conference in football. Hell, 1 of 4 picks in the 2013 NFL draft came straight from the 14 teams of the SEC alone.

And among all that talent, Tebow is the greatest QB in the history of the SEC. And not because he was a great runner. Tebow was, at the time he left the SEC, the highest rated passer in the history of the conference.

Here’s how Tebow’s college production, playing in the same tough SEC, stacked up against that of Peyton Manning

Player

Comp.

Att.

Pct.

Yards

YPA

TD

INT

Rating*

Manning

851

1,354

62.85

11,201

8.27

90

33

100.93

Tebow

661

985

67.11

9,286

9.43

88

15

120.72

 * Using the NFL formula for passer rating, not the college formula

Tebow was more accurate, got the ball downfield better, was more likely to throw touchdowns and less likely to throw INTs than Peyton Manning himself.

Tebow was, in other words, a much better college passer than Peyton Manning.

And it’s not like Manning was surrounded by chump talent at Tennessee. Three of his wide receivers went in the first round of the NFL draft and the Volunteers fielded enough talent around him on both sides of the ball to win the national title the year after Manning left.

Tebow, meanwhile, was a key player on two national title teams, the undisputed leader of one of them, won one Heisman trophy and nearly won a second. Hell, some say he’s the greatest college football player of all time.

The fact that so few are willing to give arguably the greatest player in college history a legit shot to play QB in the NFL says more about the close mindedness and tired old orthodoxy of the NFL than it does about Tebow or his talent.


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