The Denver Broncos announced Tim Tebow will be their starting quarterback. Cue the overexaggerations.
Depending on whom you listen to, Tim Tebow is either the savior of the Denver Broncos' franchise, or a draft mistake that will haunt the team for years to come. Similarly, Kyle Orton is either a master of dissecting defenses, or a lucky beneficiary of former coach Josh McDaniels' stats-padding offense.
As is often the case in polarizing debates, the truth lies somewhere in the middle ground. Tebow is a dynamic athlete but a raw passer who has demonstrated both promise and room for improvement. Orton is an average passer who can play well with a talented supporting cast but can't put the team on his back.
When the lockout ended, rumors of the Broncos trading Orton to the Miami Dolphins swirled for days, but it never happened and the Dolphins signed quarterback Matt Moore instead. With the flurry of free agency and trades mostly over, nearly every team in the league had finished making moves at the quarterback position by the time the Dolphins signed Moore, leaving Tebow and Orton to fight for the Broncos' starting spot.
The debate over the Broncos' quarterback situation centered on a mildly interesting philosophical question: should they start the veteran with the lower ceiling and the higher floor, or the second-year player with a higher ceiling and lower floor?
Tebow had more yards-per-attempt than fellow rookies Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford, but also a lower completion percentage. Playing on a worse team than either Bradford or McCoy, Tebow accounted for an 11:4 touchdown-to-turnover ratio, while Bradford posted a 19:22 ratio and McCoy's ratio was 7:10.
The numbers suggest Tebow has a promising future, but he certainly has room to improve. Orton certainly wasn't very good last year, but the Broncos knew what they had with him under center. Ultimately, the Broncos chose Orton, but the decision was short-lived: after an awful half against the Chargers on Sunday, Orton was pulled in favor of Tebow.
Tebow's results were less than impressive, but the Denver offense came back to life in spurts, and the Broncos came back from a 23-10 halftime deficit to within a swatted-down end zone pass of winning the game as time expired.
The Broncos named Tebow their starter Tuesday, only increasing the intensity of the national Tebow debate. In all honesty, there isn't much to debate about him. In the media, both sides of the Tebow discussion oversimplify things to a point that's embarrassing to the public's intelligence.
Instead of revolving on the merits of starting or sitting a young quarterback, the Tebow debate is now focused on hyperbole and drama emphasized by the media. For example, ESPN's Merril Hoge posted series of statements on Twitter this summer regarding Tebow's ability to succeed as an NFL passer.
"Sitting watching tape of bronco offense from last year!" Hoge wrote. "Orton or Tebow? It's embarrassing to think the broncos (sic) could win with Tebow!!"
While there is plenty of reason to be concerned with Tebow's ability to succeed in the NFL, such a bold statement is simply over the top. Tebow's release is slow enough to prevent him from completing some passes, but it's not enough to keep him from making big plays with his arm.
Perhaps the best statistical analysis of Tebow's NFL performance from last year came from CBS's Gregg Doyel:
"(Tebow) completed exactly half his passes, which isn't good, but he averaged 16 yards per completion, which is tremendous," Doyel wrote. "(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."
In context, the numbers Doyel provided summarize Tebow pretty accurately: he is extremely inconsistent, but when he makes a play, the play he makes is usually a big one. A perfect example is Tebow's debut Sunday, when his first three drives were three-and-outs and he capped his next drive off with a 12-yard touchdown run.
Two things about Tebow's play cannot be denied: he is a dynamic playmaker, and he is inconsistent. In each of the four games in which he has received significant playing time, he has both thrown and rushed for a touchdown. With subpar play and plenty of room for improvement, Tebow has still achieved moderate success on a horrible team in his first real in-game action.
There's no doubt Tebow must refine his mechanics in order to become a successful NFL passer. However, doing so will not be impossible -- he's already compacted it somewhat since he left college, and his spiral is tighter than it was even last year. Right now his biggest problem is setting his feet and planting when he throws.
The Broncos should look to the Carolina Panthers for the formula for how to maximize Tebow's strengths as he acclimates to the NFL passing game. Carolina offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski lifted some quarterback runs and option plays from Auburn's playbook and incorporated it into the Panthers' offense.
Additionally, Newton has been used as his team's primary goal-line rusher. He has carried the ball 13 times inside the 10-yard line, compared to running backs Jonathan Stewart and Deangelo Williams's combined three carries inside the ten-yard line. Tebow, like Newton, is big enough he can not only take hits when running the ball, but dish them out as well. If the Broncos can incorporate some plays Tebow knows well from college and use Tebow as a goal-line weapon, the Broncos' offense could improve on the ground and take pressure off the passing game.
Whether Tebow makes the Broncos better or not, starting him for the rest of the season is a smart decision. Orton's performance has gotten worse in each of his three seasons with the Broncos, showing he is not the long-term answer at quarterback. Tebow is the only Broncos quarterback under contract for 2012, so it only makes sense to watch how he improves as the starter over the course of the season.
If he improves enough to convince Denver coaches and executives he is worthy of being the team's long-term starter, the Broncos will know they are set at quarterback this offseason. If his performance suggests he can't become an adequate starter in the NFL, at least the Broncos will know they need to address the quarterback position heading into the offseason. Regardless of how Tebow plays, the Broncos will have a clear understanding of where they stand at the most important position in the game.
When Tebow steps onto the field against the Dolphins next Sunday, it will be the beginning: the beginning of an era, or the beginning of the end of an experiment. Either way, it will also be the beginning of a hysteria among sports fans who are fiercely divided by their opinions about Tebow.
Will he become the star his fans believe he will be, or will he become the failure his critics expect him to be?
Only time will tell for sure. Until then, Tebow remains what he was when the Broncos drafted him: an enigma with an uncertain future.