A great debate is currently under way, one that only figures to intensify in the months ahead. Just type the right search words into Google, and you'll find a long string of bloggers and columnists asking some variation of this question: "Is
The first time someone posed this query to me earlier this summer, I instinctively rolled my eyes. It's not that I didn't hold the Florida star in the highest possible esteem -- I've cast my Heisman ballot for him each of the past two years -- but even with his two national titles and one Heisman, it seemed far-fetched to suggest Tebow is better than
Yet all across the Internet, I found people discussing this very possibility with the utmost sincerity. A sampling:
"I was never lucky enough to witness some of the all-time greats like
"Tim Tebow is already in the conversation for "Greatest Ever," even before this season starts," writes blogger
I began to think I should start taking this conversation more seriously.
Still, I wondered how to possibly compare players from such disparate eras. How, for example, do you compare Tebow to Staubach, who won the 1963 Heisman while passing for a now-pedestrian 1,474 yards? And that's just discussing two quarterbacks. How do you measure a quarterback against a running back, receiver or a linebacker when they all perform such different jobs?
I decided to focus solely on distinguished quarterbacks over a more manageable time period: the past 25 years. And while titles and trophies are certainly important, they don't tell the whole story. I wanted to come up with a quantitative way to measure Tebow's on-field performance against that of other recent greats, and I wanted it to include every significant measuring stick for a quarterback -- including wins and losses.
So here's what I did. I looked up the career statistics of every Heisman-winning quarterback or Heisman finalist who has played for a national championship team since 1984 and applied the most widely used statistical formula out there: fantasy football scoring. Anyone who's ever played in a fantasy league knows there's a standard scoring system used by most leagues:
• One point for every 25 passing yards or 10 rushing yards
• Four points for every passing touchdown; six points for every rushing touchdown
• Minus-two points for every interception thrown
In addition to these five categories, I added completion percentage. Once I obtained the raw score, I multiplied it by the most important category of all, career winning percentage (as starter), to come up with a final "greatness score."
When I first began the research, I suspected Tebow, who's only started two seasons, would still lag considerably behind renowned three- and four-year starters like
Boy was I wrong.
Tebow's "greatness score" already eclipses those of all but two of the 19 quarterbacks on the following list and, barring injury, should shatter all previous scores by season's end.
Before I continue, let me just say I fully recognize this formula has its flaws. For one thing, fantasy football scoring inherently favors runners over passers (hence why the top running backs always go before the top quarterbacks in most fantasy drafts), and it was designed for the NFL, where the quarterbacks don't generally run much.
Thus, it should come as little surprise running quarterbacks like Tebow and overall leader Vince Young fared particularly well. One could even argue Tebow's score is inflated by the 22 rushing touchdowns he racked up during his 2007 Heisman season (each of which gained more fantasy points than a passing TD) when Florida generally ignored its running backs.
On the other hand, one could also argue this isn't necessarily a bad thing. After all, a good dual-threat quarterback plays a bigger factor in a game's outcome than a straight-up passer. Nor should Tebow be penalized for the fact his coaches often employ him as a de facto fullback. That he's so proficient in both areas only contributes to his perceived greatness.
I'm not suggesting we treat the above list as gospel, i.e. that we say
In viewing Tebow's numbers alongside some of these other greats, I began to get a better picture of just how dominant he's been. Consider:
• While Tebow is unlikely to catch Texas' Young in rushing yards (Young racked up 3,127, Tebow has 2,037), he's already rushed for more touchdowns (43 to 37) and thrown for more yards (6,159 to 6,040) and touchdowns (67 to 44).
• Tebow's staggering 67-to-11 touchdown-to-interception ratio is far better than anyone else's on the list. Tebow's ratio works out to 6.10-to-1. His closest competition: USC's Leinart at 4.3-to-1.
• Florida State coach
You could say I was starting to come around.
Obviously, there are plenty of great quarterbacks who never won a Heisman (like Tennessee's
Once again, he's at or near the top of the pack.
The main things that jump out to me from this list:
• Once again, Tebow's rushing numbers far exceed those of two highly decorated "mobile" quarterbacks,
• To anyone who likes to suggest Tebow is a product of
• Most of us never fully appreciated just how special a player
OK -- I'm sold. Barring injury or some other unforeseen demise (like Florida unexpectedly careening to the Outback Bowl), Tebow will almost certainly finish his career as the greatest quarterback of the past 25 years. That is, unless ...
Lest we forget, there's no guarantee Tebow will wind up the most decorated quarterback
Here's how Tebow's score compares to these two on our "greatness scale:"
As you can see, McCoy, who has an extra year as a starter under his belt, isn't far off from Tebow. With another big year, he, too, would likely surpass every big name previously mentioned.
Bradford sits further behind, primarily because of his lack of rushing statistics. In terms of passing, he's thrown for more yards and touchdowns than Tebow and more touchdowns than McCoy. He's also the closest of any other quarterback I calculated to approaching Tebow's TD-to-INT ratio, at 5.38-to-1.
Statistically, Bradford could also pass most or all of the other quarterback greats, though he's unlikely to catch Tebow or McCoy. But regardless of their statistics, both McCoy and Bradford will ultimately need to add a national title to their resume to formally enter the all-time greatest discussion.
OK, OK. I know I said it's virtually impossible to compare players from different positions -- but I was having so much fun with this little formula, I just couldn't help myself. Considering the fantasy system is so favorable to runners, I wanted to see what would happen if I put Tebow's "greatness score" up against one of the all-time great running backs.
The envelope, please ...
It's close enough to be considered a draw -- but again, remember Tebow has another year ahead of him. Once all is said and done, the Florida quarterback may even wind up with more rushing touchdowns than the Georgia legend.
If nothing else, the evidence overwhelmingly shows people aren't tossing around all those grandiose Tebow labels without merit. There is no conclusive way to compare Tim Tebow or Sam Bradford to Dick Butkus or Red Grange (though I'm sure the Galloping Ghost could have dominated a fantasy league in his day). In terms of the modern era, however, the numbers are awfully convincing in Tebow's favor.
So convincing, in fact, that come January there may no longer be an argument.