The Circus Comes to Town: Tim Tebow in Denver

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by Aaron Schatz

In the comments thread from my first Monday post, reader TWAndrews asks:

Can you explain to me why Denver took Tebow with their first round pick?The honest answer is that the Denver Broncos drafted Tebow because they think he's a viable NFL quarterback prospect.

It's hard to think of another draft pick as controversial as Denver taking Tebow in the first round. Opinions about his ability to play quarterback at the professional level are all over the place, and then you have to add in his extraordinary personal popularity as well as the controversy sometimes stirred up by his strong religious views.

Tebow is not some option quarterback who was a runner first and a passer second. His college stats at quarterback are excellent. His career completion percentage was around 66 percent with more than nine yards per pass attempt and a touchdown-to-interception rate better than 5 to 1. But then, those stats themselves are part of the controversy, because some observers say they are the product of the Florida offensive system, which often featured short patterns with only one read on each throw, while others say they attest to Tebow's ability.

You also have to remember that Tebow is not the first NFL quarterback with odd mechanics. Philip Rivers has awful mechanics, but they seem to work just fine for him. On the other hand, Byron Leftwich had the same slow-windup problem that Tebow has, and it helped sabotage his career.

My problem with the Tebow pick is that his persona doesn't fit his NFL role. I honestly have no idea if Tebow can develop into an above-average NFL quarterback, but I feel fairly confident that he would need a couple years of development time first. He needs to refine his mechanics to the point where he doesn't instinctually go back to his "old" throwing style at the first sign of pressure. He needs to watch lots of film. He needs to work on drop-backs from non-shotgun formations. And so forth. This is the kind of player you draft and then sit on the bench behind your starter for a couple years.

However, when Denver drafted Tebow, they brought the circus to town. The guy's popularity is ridiculous. His jersey is already one of the top ten most-purchased in the NFL, and you'll find people all around Denver wearing the name and number of their backup quarterback. Reporters from Denver to Gainesville and everywhere in between are going to be watching his every move. The minute Kyle Orton struggles, there will be calls to insert Tebow into the lineup. Tebow himself may be humble and willing to bide his time, but distractions and the outside pressure to play him will be intense. I just don't think that's a good environment for slow and steady quarterback development.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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