What Kind of NFL Draft Prospect Is Manti Te’o?
For the past three years, Notre Dame senior linebacker Manti Te’o has been the face of the Fighting Irish. He not only has been the playmaker of the defense during this time period (133 tackles in 2010, 128 in 2011), he has been the leader of the team.
Te’o’s views on going to the NFL are a bit different than the typical draft prospect. His dream is to have an impact on people, and he certainly is living out that dream. However, he is just six short months and seven collegiate games away from playing in the NFL, one of his smaller goals along the way.
Looking ahead to a world of Notre Dame football without Manti is not something I am quite yet prepared for. He has been an absolute joy to watch and is a class act, and his final seven games should be savored by the Irish faithful. I suppose I am going to have to face reality sometime however, so let’s take a look at where Te’o ranks in the upcoming draft class.
Manti Te’o has the ideal size for an NFL inside linebacker and is an every down guy. He should enter the draft widely considered the best run stopper for his reliable tackling, ability to shed blocks better than anybody, and terrific sideline-to-sideline range. Te’o closes in a hurry and has decent downhill attack ability, but he has been knocked for this before this season. Manti has vastly improved in pass coverage this season, and is very comfortable in zone coverage. Te’o has displayed a high football IQ, and is considered a good fit as an inside linebacker in a 3-4 or the middle man in a 4-3. Te’o has the leadership and character traits every NFL franchise is looking for.
Te’o certainly has the IQ of an NFL linebacker, but his instincts are sub-par. He can be overly aggressive at times, which will cause him trouble in play-action and counters. He lacks great speed, and will be overmatched often against athletic tight ends at the next level. Te’o is not a liability as a pass rusher, but he has shown no signs of being anything more than an average blitzer in the NFL.
Prospect Rank and Competition
To this point, scouts widely consider Manti Te’o the top inside linebacker prospect for the 2013 Draft.
For this reason, many scouts like to compare him to last year’s top inside linebacker prospect, Luke Kuechly (Boston College). Te’o would not have gone higher than Kuechly if he came out last year, and at this point he is considered behind where Kuechly was at this point in his senior season. The two reasons for this are the instinct and speed problems previously mentioned.
There has never been a higher premium in the NFL for pass rushers as there is right now. In a quarterback-driven league, getting pressure on the passer is essential for a defense.
For this reason, there will be at least a couple of linebackers taken ahead of Te’o in the outside linebacker/defensive end mold. SEC studs Jarvis Jones (Georgia) and Barkevious Mingo (LSU) should be drafted in the top ten as players that can give offensive line coaches nightmares for years to come.
What Does It All Mean?
Everywhere you look, Manti Te’o is projected to go somewhere in the bottom half of the first round in the 2013 NFL Draft. While he is a premiere run stopper that could start right away, there are a lot more valuable and rare skill sets available in the minds of scouts.
Luke Kuechly was widely considered an appropriate selection at No. 9 overall last year and Te’o is not considered as good of a prospect as he was. If Te’o came out last year, a pick at the end of the first round seemed like an appropriate spot for him. I believe scouts still look at Te’o’s potential draft position like he is still competing with Kuechly, however.
Te’o is the best middle linebacker in college football, right now. His decision to stay in school for his senior year was absolutely the right business decision. He was a lock to go between 16 and 32 last year with a better linebacker ahead of him. Now that he is all alone at the top, I think Te’o is a lock to go between 10 and 20 overall.