As a scout, you look forward to rookies stepping on the field for the first time to see if they live up to the hype. No draft pick received more attention heading into the season than Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow. While the first-round pick was used sparingly for three months, we got our first real look at him against the Raiders.
Although it typically takes four games to make a solid evaluation on a player, a lot can be gained from watching a one-game snapshot.
In looking at Tebow's debut, it appears the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner has the potential to be an effective NFL starting quarterback. Some will dispute the notion based on his unorthodox style, but a quarterback's primary job is to successfully guide his offense down the field while playing winning football. That consists of taking care of the ball -- read avoiding turnovers -- and making timely plays. Those plays lead to first downs and touchdowns, and ultimately allow the offense to put up enough points to win on a consistent basis.
As I broke down Tebow's effort in the 39-23 loss at Oakland, he scored high marks in all of those major categories. He led the Broncos to five scores (two touchdowns and three field goals) and didn't have any major miscues. Even though he was sacked twice, he didn't turn the ball over despite facing a myriad of blitzes from the Raiders. He kept his composure and appeared to gain confidence with each snap. His inexperience obviously limited the Broncos' ability to counter the blitz-heavy tactics, yet he performed well enough to keep his team in a position to win the game under normal circumstances.
When making the evaluation, it is important to note that Tebow was considered a project at the position entering the draft. Best described as a powerful athlete, he has average arm strength and touch. He struggles with accuracy, touch and placement on intermediate and deep throws coupled with a quirky delivery that has needed some refinement on the next level. As a runner, he is not in the class of Michael Vick or Vince Young, but he is a nifty scrambler with the strength to run through arm tackles on the perimeter. He was regarded as an exceptional short-yardage runner at Florida with a knack for getting to the end zone.
Tebow's intangibles -- leadership, work ethic and character -- rated off the charts coming out of college, but his extensive experience directing a shotgun-based spread offense required a technical makeover due to his unfamiliarity with the conventional drop-back game (three-, five- and seven-step drops from under center require different footwork mechanics than executing passes from shotgun alignments).
In addition, he needed to learn how to diagnose coverage while on the move. That means his eyes have to remain focused down the field while going through his drops and being able to quickly identify the primary receiver after briefly turning his back to the defense. While this wouldn't appear to be a difficult skill to pick up, spread formation quarterbacks typically struggle to make the transition after spending four years operating primarily out of the shotgun.
The Broncos' coaching staff should be commended for crafting a game plan that accentuated Tebow's strengths. They attempted to run the ball early and often out of two-back sets. This was designed to alleviate pressure on Tebow as the driving force of the offense and also set up a vertical play-action passing game. With the Raiders sitting in eight-man fronts, the allure of the play fake created open windows for Tebow behind the linebackers. Given his lack of precision, the use of play-action made for easier throws. In looking at his 32-yard completion to Jabar Gaffney, you can see the big window created by the play fake and how it enables Tebow to lob a rainbow into an open area.
While he remains an unpolished pocket passer, Tebow has made significant strides from his collegiate days. He retreats from center with a better rhythm and doesn't show any hesitation when he gets to the top of his drops. Although he is still more effective when passing to his left, he had some success dropping in teardrops to the right. His 33-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Lloyd was one of his better passes of the day and showed some of his immense potential as a drop back passer.
In addition to his deep strikes, Tebow connected with Lloyd on a pair of intermediate throws in rhythm. The most impressive was a deep comeback that was delivered before Lloyd came out of his break. Though he didn't get many opportunities to throw these types of rhythm passes against Oakland, his ability to connect on these in the future will be critical to the passing game expanding under his direction.
Tebow's game can't be fully appreciated without taking his running skills into consideration. At 6-foot-3, 245 pounds, he is a rugged runner who is unafraid of contact. While he lacks the explosiveness of Vick, he adds a different dimension to the running attack due to his ability to pick up yardage between the tackles. He can find creases in the middle of the defense and big shots are needed to get him to the ground. As a result, he is a playmaker on quarterback draws and sneaks between the tackles. He finished with eight rushes for 78 yards, including a 40-yard touchdown run, against Oakland.
Tebow's experience as a spread option quarterback also allows the Broncos to get to the perimeter with the run. He understands how to read the defensive end on zone reads, and that will eventually create open running lanes for runners on inside plays. With the defensive end forced to stay at home to guard against the quarterback run, the Broncos' running game might finally get some traction.
Tebow's highly anticipated debut provided a glimmer of hope for the Broncos, but it also opened the eyes of evaluators around the league. Although he remains unpolished, he showed that he is capable of being effective in a game plan catered to his strengths. It will be interesting to see if he can continue to have success in the coming weeks against defenses geared to take away his strongest traits.