Yahoo's Charles Robinson had an interesting column yesterday, off of Charlie Crist's riff that the Jaguars should draft Tim Tebow and keep him in-state: Robinson argues that the Jaguars shouldn't draft Tebow. I agree that the Jaguars probably shouldn't draft Tebow, as you'll see, but I think Robinson missed some key points and whiffed on others.
(1) Start with the premise: Crist's point actually had nothing to do with Tebow's abilities as an NFL player. I don't think Crist was suggesting that by drafting Tebow, the Jaguars get better.
In fact, most people agree that the Jaguars drafting Tebow has little to do with football, and everything to do with marketing. They are very different.
And though it's rare to consider an NFL team using a 1st-round draft pick on a marketing consideration, the Jags are in a very desperate situation and Tebow is a singularly unique figure.
(2) Robinson says: "I can tell you what will happen if Tebow stays in Florida. Fans will expect immediate greatness."
That's simply not true. Fans will expect a couple of things: (1) The ability to buy a Tebow jersey. (2) The ability for Tebow to get on the field for at least a couple of snaps per game.
They are Tebow fans, but they are not stupid: They absolutely recognize that Tebow's NFL career needs development, perhaps serious development. Contrary to Robinson's point, they will be patient, precisely because they know that Tebow may eventually help.
(It's not unlike Tebow as a freshman at Florida -- he was the most popular Gator by a wide margin, within about three minutes of the first game of the season. But Urban Meyer only used Tebow selectively -- fans still went nuts, in part because he was effective in limited use, but in part because they were merely excited about what MIGHT be, years in the future.)
While Tebow won't be ready to handle 70 snaps per game as a full-time NFL starting QB -- though how many rookies are -- he can absolutely take a limited (but important) role at the goal-line or critical 4th-down situations, just like he did at Florida. And fans will love it.
(3) Then Robinson makes a fairly novel comparison: Doug Flutie playing for the Patriots from 1987-1989. I have never seen that comp, and I actually think there are some analogies.
Here is the key difference: With Flutie in New England, it was "starter or bust." With Tebow in Jacksonville, he can have a limited role -- again, not unlike his role at Florida in 2006 -- and contribute JUST ENOUGH for fans to be really happy with having him.
But the Flutie example is important for one other reason: Coaching.
Robinson cites, then dismisses, the Flutie fan gripe "They're not playing him right!" Tebow is in a similar situation: If he is playing for a conventional NFL coach who doesn't know how to use him, he won't do well -- fans will be frustrated.
Urban Meyer has talked extensively about this: He will dissuade any team from drafting him -- including the Jaguars (and Meyer has a great relationship with Jack Del Rio) -- if he thinks the coaching staff won't use Tebow correctly or try to get him to be something he isn't.
That's why Meyer has implicitly talked about Tebow playing for Meyer's best buddy, Bill Belichick. Belichick would find all the creative ways to unleash Tebow -- whether he is a traditional QB or not. But maybe -- under Belichick -- Tebow would re-define what it means to be a QB beyond being a QB: A guy that can play QB, FB, RB, TE, H-Back, whatever. This isn't Kordell Stewart's "Slash" -- this is Tebow as "Superback."
But that takes an innovative and confident thinker like Belichick. (And Belichick WANTS to get the chance to work Tebow into his schemes.) There aren't many like him in the NFL -- which is why Meyer is so unsettled about Tebow being a "marketing" pick for the Jaguars or Raiders or someone else, stuck on a crappy team with crappy coaching and a crappy career ahead.
Consider that Flutie didn't start to thrive NOT because he was no longer playing close to home, but because he finally was playing for coaches who knew how best to utilize his unique skills.
(More recently, consider that Vince Young didn't thrive because he got away from Texas -- obviously, he had his fair share of trouble in Tennessee. He started to thrive because Jeff Fisher implemented an offense that catered to VY's strengths... it didn't hurt that VY is playing alongside the most dangerous all-around player in the NFL, Chris Johnson.)
Fit matters in the NFL -- especially when you are talking about an unconventional player like Tebow. For Tebow, coaching and surrounding talent fit will matter most of all.
It won't matter if Tebow is in Jacksonville or Seattle or anywhere else -- selling jerseys and season tickets or not -- if he is coached by someone too conventional or insecure to find ways to use Tebow's unique skills.
In Jacksonville, yes, they would cynically draft him primarily for his marketing -- but as long as they used him just enough and innovatively (using his freshman year at Florida as a model), he would thrive, and fans would be thrilled.
It remains a very open question whether the current Jacksonville coaching staff is innovative and secure enough to follow through on that. If they aren't, then Tebow will have that much tougher of a time. If they are, Jacksonville is as fine of a fit as any other possibility.
Personally, I intensely dislike the Patriots and their fans -- although I am a huge fan of Bill Belichick. As a Tebow fan, I can swallow my loathing and hope that the Patriots still find a way to draft Tebow. Between the Jags' interest and the Patriots' pressing needs on defense, I suspect that he and Belichick won't get a chance to be partners. That's a shame.
You can only hope that Jacksonville -- if, in fact, they do draft Tebow -- finds a way to use Tebow creatively and actively.