Manti Te'o | Middle linebacker | Notre Dame | 6'2, 255 pounds
There are few collegiate linebackers who can boast as impressive of a resume at Notre Dame middle linebacker Manti Te'o. A two-time All-American, Te'o took home an armful of individual awards after this season and was a Heisman Trophy finalist. He was among the national leaders in interceptions and the leader of a Notre Dame team that played for a national championship.
In South Bend, he is legend. In NFL Draft parlance, he is a good and probably safe prospect. In Notre Dame's national title loss to Alabama, Te'o had a bad game. No one is questioning as much. But the whole of Te'o's college resume is greater than his finale. That was all written before the fake girlfriend hoax swept the nation, hurtling Te'o's integrity and intelligence into question.
Before it all, Te'o was an intangibly perfect prospect. There were no off the field issues. Zero red flags. He was a captain and for some an inspirational story. Now the discussion topics are on his naivety and how he'll deal with the girlfriend hoax going forward. Can a team trust him? Will Te'o be able to handle the certain ribbing that will come from NFL teammates? The thing that was the most know about Te'o is now the most unknown.
Strictly for this scouting report, it will be about what Te'o has done and his ability as a football player. The rest will sort itself out. As a middle linebacker prospect, Te'o is a plug and play prospect. He may not have a high ceiling, but he's a player that should be able to step into a starting lineup immediately.
Te'o has improved each of his four starting seasons with the Irish. After his junior season, there were some knocks about Te'o's athleticism and ability to drop in coverage. He showed as a senior he can drop into zone coverage and handle part of the short and middle area of the field. While most of the interceptions Te'o had came off tips or really bad throws, he was still in a position to capitalize.
Because he's an experienced four-year starter, Te'o has good instincts and can quickly decipher where a play is going to develop. Coming out of the 3-4 defense, Te'o should have a good understanding of gap integrity. He takes sound routes to the ball and is superb when he can play inside the tackle box. Ran the defense for Notre Dame, aligning players in the front seven.
Save for the national title game, Te'o is a fundamentally sound and powerful tackler. He wraps properly and drives through the ball carrier. Has the strength to finish tackles if he comes in high or low. Can shed blockers better than most linebackers in this stage of their development. Is still active as a tackler while being blocked. Finished his career with 437 tackles, 34 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, 10 pass breakups and seven interceptions.
The knock on Te'o is that he's not a quick-twitch movement athlete. While he does pursue ball carriers nicely, he struggles when he has to break down in space and tackle a shifty runner. He may have trouble covering speedier running backs out of the backfield in man situations.
May not test well in speed and agility tests. Isn't the kind of linebacker that can chase down players from behind. If someone gets behind Te'o, they often have the advantage. Can get over-aggressive in his pursuit and outrun the play. Te'o wasn't used much purely as a blitzer up the middle. Because of that, he's behind in his development of pass rush moves and counter moves.
Sprained his right knee in the 2010 Sun Bowl and had arthroscopic surgery after the season.
As a player, there is much to like about Te'o. He's NFL ready as a prospect because of his instincts and tackling ability. But he's limited as a prospect. His ceiling isn't as high as some players because he doesn't have top-end athleticism. He's strictly a middle linebacker, and may be best suited to 3-4 teams that ask one of the inside linebackers to mainly play the run and work inside the box.
Pro comparison: Takeo Spikes, San Diego Chargers
When Spikes was at his best early in his career, he was a physical linebacker with good athleticism. Like Te'o, Spikes is a heady player and a team leader. He may not have the eye-popping athleticism of Patrick Willis, but he's a dependable, rugged middle man.
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