There is something a bit obvious the current discussion. If Tebow plays like he did in the last five minutes, he'll be great, but if plays as badly as he did in the first 55 minutes, he'll be a dud. Just take out the time references, and you get "If Tebow plays badly, he'll be bad, and he plays well, he'll be good". We all know that already. We still really don't know what we have with Tebow. Obviously, he can play well, and he can also play exceptionally poorly. I think rather than comparing him to Elway, which is a hopelessly lofty comparison, we should ask on which side of Jake Plummer he ends up.
Jake Plummer, we all remember, was a winner. He took a terrible Arizona team to the playoffs (just once, but it was still impressive) on the back of his play making. He was extremely mobile, and he came to Denver and put up some incredible numbers in Shannahan's offense. In many ways, the Shannahan offense was custom made for Plummer- designed roll outs, naked bootlegs, and lots of play action passing, at all of which he excelled. The decision to start Cutler was no doubt premature, but let's remember one reason why it happened. Increasingly, Plummer couldn't play from the pocket. It was ugly towards the end watching Plummer drop back to pass. After a while, one just got the feeling that while he was creative and dynamic on the move or when the play broke down, he wasn't really able to get it done on the bread and butter plays. An offense like Shannahan's requires a diversity of skills. All the misdirections work best when somebody can also make the ordinary throws.
Tebow is very unlikely to be the next Elway, but I think most of his supporters know that. However, we keep hearing about what Elway did during his first seasons, or career. What we should be asking is how Tebow compares to Plummer. In some respects, the late career Plummer reflects more of our hopes, and fears, for Tebow. Tebow is dynamic when the play breaks down. In plays tailored to his strengths (spread formations, movement, screens, designed runs), he shows not just potential, but often real ability. Let's assume that he continues to develop those strengths. He'll then be very good on certain kinds of plays, and of course he can excel when a play breaks down.
However, as with Plummer, that's not enough. That's part of why Tebow the coaching staff won't just 'let Tebow be Tebow', as fans often plead. A QB who rolls or runs on every pass is going to wear out during a game. Making time with one's feet in the pocket and getting the ball out quickly are crucial to staying upright. One of the best ways to beat the blitz or a great 4-man rush is to get the ball out fast. Marino had a great line, but he didn't make them block for long. Constant QB movement outside the pocket also means constant moving around by the line. When you need four yards on a pass play, it's nice to be able to throw the quick comeback or a slant off a three step drop.
One of the advantage of being highly mobile is that it can lead to another teams using a 'spy'. This takes away one aggressive pass rusher, or one potential player in coverage. A good way to exploit the other team's using a spy is to be able to throw from the pocket. Mobility pays the highest dividends when it's combined with pocket-passing ability. Elway had that, as did the younger Favre. Plummer didn't, and it was really hard to see how he was going to get it done in all the circumstances that are required for consistent winning at the very highest level.
Back to Tebow. I'm optimistic about Tebow. His best plays make me think that he's got the basic tools already, but that he's just not consistent with them yet. The intangibles, and the athleticism, matter. So, it seems to me that Tebow really can win, and be good. But, the real measure isn't whether he stunk it up for three quarters in his first start of the year, or whether the coaching staff can better exploit his strengths (although that will help, no doubt). Tebow won't have a long career just being Tebow, either due to injury, or due to Plummer-like inability to be a complete player at QB. If, however, Tebow can learn to play loose and quick in the pocket, and he certainly shows flashes of that, then Tebow can be the player that Plummer wasn't. If he doesn't, a novelty offense won't work for long in the NFL. My money is on his succeeding. Let's not be in too big a hurry to have the coaching staff let Tebow play like Tebow. Let's see how he does at playing like developing QB who will, in the future, be a complete QB.