GAINESVILLE — During the past four months, former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow has been scrutinized, criticized and sometimes maligned by NFL analysts, experts and former coaches in conversations over whether he can play the position in the NFL.
Sometime this week, he will find out which NFL team is willing to give him a chance. He has been projected anywhere from a risky late first-round pick to somewhere in the third round. But regardless of where he goes, this much seems clear: drafting Tebow will require a little faith, a great deal of patience and the willingness to be creative in using the left-handed quarterback who is considered by many a better runner than passer.
"I think the key is going to be where he goes," said ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski, a former NFL quarterback. "Does he go to a system where he can sit back and learn behind a veteran quarterback? I believe that if he's put on the field early, it will be a mistake. But it's also a mistake for almost any rookie to go on the field immediately. But I think Tim clearly needs that time to develop the fundamentals and the mechanics that are necessary to be consistently good in the National Football League."
And that in itself might hamper Tebow's draft status because many teams won't dole out first- or second-round money for a quarterback they don't think is ready to play any time soon.
"I think you have to draft players in the first two rounds that have legitimate shots at being a starter right away," said Todd McShay, who appears on ESPN and is the director of college football scouting for Scouts Inc. "And with Tim Tebow, at least in my opinion, you're talking about at least three years before he's ready to compete for a starting job at quarterback."
What the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner can bring immediately to an NFL team is the ability to run the wildcat formation and great skill in short-yardage situations. But that might not be enough.
"I'm not big on that; I'm not drafting a second-rounder to be a wildcat quarterback," veteran ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said. "I think it's a wasted pick to draft this kid just as a wildcat quarterback. I think Tim has got to develop into a starting quarterback to be worthy of being a second-round draft pick. I don't think he can be, others do. I think he can be a very successful H-back, and I think that's ultimately going to be where he settles in at the pro level."
Tebow's detractors say his throwing motion needs serious mechanical adjustments, but it's just one of many problems. He's left-handed, which some say is a deterrent in the NFL. In 2009, there were five lefties in the league, and some players and coaches say it's difficult to adjust to the deep throws of a left-handed quarterback because of the way the ball fades to the left and the different spin. If Tebow is the backup to a right-handed quarterback, it could be an issue, some say. His accuracy and velocity are major question marks, but Jaworski doesn't believe it's something that can't be corrected, citing as examples the improvement of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady over the years. "They didn't have exactly fireballing arms when they came into the league," he said.
Former Bucs coach and current ESPN Monday Night Football analyst Jon Gruden spent several days this spring working with Tebow in Tampa and has mentored him as he prepared for the draft. He's a big believer that Tebow has the ability to become a successful NFL quarterback.
"This is the most competitive guy that you'll ever meet," Gruden said. "There's an urgency about him; there's an unbelievable work ethic. He's been working relentlessly since the end of his Gators' career to get ready for this day. You want Tim Tebow on your football team. …
"I think somebody that's got a down-the-road philosophy or vision for him will take him. And they'll take him earlier than some people expect."