Was John Elway Right?


November 28, 2011

John Elway made some harsh comments when asked about the future of his team, the Denver Broncos. His current starting quarterback, Tim Tebow, has won four of his last five games with some late game heroics at the end of a few games. But, Elway is still constantly questioned about his prospects as the franchise quarterback. When goaded about the probability of Tebow being the quarterback of the future for the Broncos, Elway said,

“No… I think obviously he’s making progress week in and week out. When you look at our third down numbers, those have to improve. I mean that’s the bottom line.”

Elway did not say clearly that Tim Tebow would be out of a job soon, but he did say that in his opinion the quarterback of the future was not on the squad right now. The Broncos recently cut Kyle Orton, the former starting passer for the team, which relays some confidence in the young quarterback (or at least a lack of confidence in Orton) and promises that he will be the starter for the rest of this season. However, most of the city of Denver is up in arms about Elway’s statements.

Then, there is also the relative newness of Tebow as a NFL quarterback. The Denver Broncos have surprised a few teams with their modified Tebow package in the same way that the Miami Dolphins surprised teams with their Wildcat offense last year. Utilizing that offense was inventive, rebellious, unique and fitted for their personnel, and had not been used in the National Football League in 30 years, so no one knew how to defend it. Right now, Tebow is similarly difficult to prepare for because he is capable of running the football in the same way that Michael Vick and Vince Young did before him. In fact there are many parallels between the careers of these quarterbacks. Both Vick and Young have a positive winning percentage as starting quarterbacks, as does Tebow so far in his career. They were all drafted for their unique ability to run the football in addition to their knack for making great plays at the end of games. They have all been aided by good, opportunistic defenses. But Vick and Young both faltered in the latter years of their careers and the playoffs when NFL defenses caught on to the flaws in their skill sets and their own defenses were less effective. NFL defensive coordinators are hired solely to find a quarterback’s weakness using game tape of the offensive player. Tebow’s days are numbered once coaches accumulate enough film to find the tendencies of his offense unless he learns to deliver the football more accurately with his arm.

There in lies the problem with Tim Tebow. Despite some obvious leadership skills, there some real deficiencies in Tebow’s skill set as a quarterback. For his career, he is completing 46.9% of his pass attempts. That is nearly ten percentage points behind both Vick and Young. The Broncos third down conversion percentage is 24.4%, nearly twice as low as the league average of 46.8%. And, third conversions are the measure of good quarterbacks. The best teams in the NFL hover slightly above the 50% mark. The best quarterbacks call and make the necessary plays to keep drives alive. Tebow seems to be incapable of making good decisions and accurate passes until the end of the fourth quarter. He has spent his lifetime delivering the football with a long, deliberate hitch and a three-quarters release point. He has an estimated millions of repetitions with a terrible throwing motion. To re-learn these poor techniques would take millions more repetitions, and he does not have the time to change these habits as a starting quarterback. In essence, Tebow is what he is, a great leader, but a bad passer.

The fans of the Denver Broncos and the Tebowmaniacs may not like what John Elway said about Tebow, but he was right. Tebow is being asked to do something unprecedented in the NFL, to learn on the job while winning games despite lacking the base set of skills required for his position. Elway was a Hall of Fame passer and understands that it takes more than determination and charisma to win a Super Bowl. Though he could have minced his words for the sake of the team, people should not attack him for telling the truth. If the city of Denver expects more World Championships then they need a better quarterback. John Elway told the truth, Tebow is not the quarterback of the future.


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