open field
A Hot Commodity
open field

A Hot Commodity

Frustrated Jaguars fans have been asking, "Tebow, why not?" Yet as the season wears on, the question is taking on an entirely different meaning
(Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Tim Tebow hasn’t abandoned his dream of being an NFL quarterback, but for the time being, the NFL has abandoned him. Even his hometown Jaguars, who are 0-5 and have the league’s worst quarterback situation, want nothing to do with him. They tried to trade for him back in the spring of 2012, but now …

All he gets are poorly attended rallies at EverBank Field, a plane flying over the stadium during a game with a TEBOW, WHY NOT? banner in tow, and the celebrity gossip website TMZ asking team owner Shad Khan about adding the lefty QB.

And yet, the Heisman winner and two-time national college champion—the erstwhile QB who has more playoff wins in Denver than Peyton Manning—has never been in higher demand. It isn’t just a team, but a league that wants his power and speed. And no, it’s not the CFL.

It’s an entirely different game in which the forward pass is illegal.

That would be USA Rugby, whose CEO, Nigel Melville, tweeted upon Tebow’s release from the Patriots in September: “One door closes, an Olympic Rugby door opens for @TimTebow—we should talk about our global game!”

Though Melville has not spoken directly to Tebow, he has reached out to people in Tebow’s camp and extended an open invitation for the former first-round pick of the Broncos to give the sport a try (pun intended!). Rugby, after all, is the ultimate option offense. And the fact that Tebow completed just 47.9% of his passes in three NFL seasons doesn’t matter. His unique athleticism would likely make him an instant star on the rugby pitch. Says Melville, “He would be a very impactful player.”

(Bruce Lipsky/AP) This banner passed over the Jaguars’ field during their 37-3 loss to the Colts on Sept. 29. (Bruce Lipsky/AP)

It was Tebow’s athleticism that inspired Patriots coach Bill Belichick—who has a strong track record of creating nontraditional roles for players—to give him a shot this summer. He didn’t make the New England’s roster, but there is evidence that shows Tebow is actually a better athlete than any other running back or tight end (or even quarterback) that the Pats had in camp.

At Nebraska in the 1970s, the football team’s head strength and conditioning coach, Boyd Epley, developed an index with a university professor to quantify athleticism. The goal was to help head coach Tom Osborne sift through hundreds of high school athletes to find the most desirable ones and award scholarships. Using simple and easily accessible data inputs—the physical dimensions of height, weight and wing span, and the physical tests of the 10-yard or 40-yard dash, shuttle run and vertical jump—a secret formula produced a number akin to an SAT score for each player’s athleticism.

A New England-based company, Athletic Standard, has leased the use of this index and consults with U.S. national teams, including USA Rugby, to help identify prospects (like Tebow) in other sports to recruit. They’ve created databases of hundreds of NFL players by simply using Combine data (though they do not work with any NFL teams at this time). “Our data doesn’t care about anything else other than his ability to generate power,” says Athletic Standard CEO Thomas Newman. “Then you can find a slot to slide him in.”

(Jared Wickerham/Getty Images) In an era of mobile QBs, Tebow's weakness is a career 47.9 completion percentage. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

An index value close to 2,000 (or above) signals a very special athlete. Sometimes, the results are prophetic: Eric Fisher, who leapfrogged fellow tackle Luke Joeckel as the first pick in this year’s NFL draft, scores nearly 1,900 on the index, 400 points higher than Joeckel. Tebow’s score is between 2,100 and 2,200, which would have ranked him first in this year’s NFL draft class of tight ends, second in the group of running backs (behind Seattle’s Christine Michael) and higher than any tailback, tight end or QB on the Patriots’ preseason roster.

Athleticism is a valued commodity in the NFL, as the Colts showed by going after budding Kenyan rugby star Daniel Adongo. But it’s also just a starting point. There’s also the critical matter of skills plus intelligence and drive. In Tebow’s case, his athleticism, his intelligence and his drive weren’t enough to land a spot on New England's 53-man roster—or elsewhere.

But the door is always open at USA Rugby.

The national team had success converting sprinter Carlin Isles, a winger who is considered to be the sport’s fastest man. Melville eyes Tebow as a center, or even a forward. There’s no doubt that Tebow’s rabid fan following would energize the sport, and he could be an Olympic athlete in 2016.

“He wants to fulfill his dream as an NFL quarterback, and I respect that,” Melville said. “But in the meantime, what’s he doing?”

That plane flying over EverBank Field with the banner in tow was asking the Jaguars’ front office, “Why not?” At this point, shouldn’t Tebow be asking the same about rugby?

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