Here are some words that might come to mind when you think about Tim Tebow: emotional leader, religious, media phenomenon, punt protector. Here’s a few that most people tend to overlook: first-round draft pick. After John Elway persuaded Peyton Manning to join the Broncos last offseason, Elway shipped Tebow to East Rutherford for a fourth and sixth round draft pick without much hesitation. But, if for some reason the Broncos hadn’t won the services of Manning, they would most likely still be relying on the now-backup/special teamer. To be fair, John Elway wasn’t a member of the front office that spent the 25th pick in the 2010 Draft on the former Heisman winner. But, the next five players were still on the board after Tebow got the call.
5. Devin McCourty (cornerback/safety, New England Patriots): McCourty, who the Patriots selected just two picks after Tebow, has had an up-and-down yet productive three seasons for the Patriots. At his best, he is a ball-hawking defensive back who has a knack for forcing turnovers in key situations. He was at his worst for most of last season, but his recent move to safety seems to be paying dividends. We can’t forget his remarkable rookie season, during which he intercepted seven passes and was elected to the Pro Bowl. It’shard to imagine he wouldn’t fit well in the Broncos’ secondary alongside Champ Bailey and company.
4. Antonio Brown (wide receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers): the Central Michigan product was drafted in the sixth round (195th overall), and has emerged as one of the league’s premier deep threats, averaging 14 yards per reception for his three-year career. Santonio Holmes’ fallout with the Steelers was one of the best things that could have happened to Brown, who is arguably the team’s most complete receiver now. He is also a threat on special teams, and in 2011 became the first player in NFL history to have more than 1,000 yards receiving and returning in the same season. For this, Brown was elected to his first Pro Bowl, and became a very rich man in the offseason.
3. Jimmy Graham (tight end, New Orleans Saints): Denver certainly has more basketball history than New Orleans, but for whatever reason, the Broncos decided to pass on the former University of Miami power forward turned tight end, who was taken in the third round (95th overall) in 2010; too bad, because he wins most jump balls nowadays, and they’re usually for touchdowns. Graham already has 24 touchdowns in 23 games started, and if it weren’t for another tight end in New England, he’d probably be the best in football at the position production-wise.
2. Geno Atkins (defensive tackle, Cincinnati Bengals): the Bengals drafted Akins with the 120th pick in the draft. The former Georgia Bulldog has tallied eight sacks with 11 tackles for loss so far in 2012; both lead the NFL among defensive tackles. He could easily make a case for being the league’s best interior pass rusher, and just the thought of him paired with Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller is enough to give quarterbacks nightmares.
1. Rob Gronkowski (tight end, New England Patriots): the Patriots had a pretty good 2010 draft class, and “Gronk” is the headliner. Drafted 42nd overall, the former Arizona Wildcat has spiked the ball in the end zone an NFL-leading 37 times since he made his debut. Aaron Hernandez, Gronkowski’s complement in New England, was taken 113th overall. Hernandez has amassed over 1600 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns in the same time period, and received Pro Bowl honors with Gronkowski in 2011. The Broncos haven’t had a Pro Bowl tight end since Shannon Sharpe in 1998, and they had a shot at quite a few in 2010. Tim Tebow’s best weapon at tight end in Denver was Daniel Fells, who ironically sits behind Gronkowski and Hernandez on the tight end depth chart in New England now.
Note: undrafted players were not considered for the list.