Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o (5) and Zeke Motta (17) and Michigan’s Jeremy Gallon (10) reach for a batted ball during the game between the Irish and Wolverines on Sept. 22, 2012. Te’o intercepted this pass and Notre Dame defeated Michigan 13-6.
It seems weird that a scandal the likes of which Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o (6′ 2″, 255 lbs.) has gone through could effect his draft stock so much. In December, Te’o was a surefire top 10 pick, but Deadspin publishes a story and suddenly he’s either at the end of the first round or out of it completely. This could be because teams are questioning his intelligence (as I have, because, c’mon. Who gets catfished that bad?), or how the scandal could effect his performance, as it undoubtedly did in the National Championship game where the previously unbeaten Irish were throttled by Alabama 42-14 and the defense looked nothing like it had the entire season. But I cannot answer those questions, all I can do is evaluate his skills.
Here are Te’o’s stats from Notre Dame:
Career: 51 games (49 starts), 437 total tackles, 212 unassisted, 225 assisted, 34.0 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, 12 quarterback hits, 17 passes defended, 10 passes broken up, 7 interceptions
2012: 13 games (13 starts), 113 total tackles, 55 unassisted, 58 assisted, 5.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries, 4 quarterback hits, 11 passes defended, 4 passes broken up, 7 interceptions
My evaluation will consist of these criteria: Agility, Bull Rush, Speed Rush, Run Defense, Speed/Burst, Strength, Tackle, Read and React, and Health.
Te’o has decent agility. He can get juked, which is not good, but he also has the agility to get through the line and into the backfield to tackle running backs and wide receivers on screens. He can change direction to go to the ball carrier very quickly, his feet are always moving fast and his hips could use a little bit more flexibility, but just put him in some yoga classes and he’ll be fine. 8.0/10.0
Overall, Te’o doesn’t have the best bull rush. When he does take a lineman on head on, it’s usually a stalemate, and it’s broken when the ball carrier comes through Te’o’s hole. There are also times when I saw Te’o get driven because he was keeping his eye on the ball carrier and not on the man blocking him. On those plays, Te’o would be much higher in his technique than on most of his plays. He is most successful when he stays low, like he is before every play, so if he can stay low more often, Te’o will be very successful in the NFL. 8.25/10.00
As an inside linebacker, Te’o has not had to use a speed rush very often. Most times he is rushing up the middle, and a speed rush is used on the outside. I’m sure with the speed and agility that Te’o has that if he was asked to use a speed rush in the NFL, he could and it would be pretty good. But I’m basing my rating here off of how I’ve seen him rush on the outside and his speed and agility. 8.0/10.0
Te’o is a great linebacker against the run. He diagnoses the run very quickly and deduces which side and what hole the run is head toward faster than just about any linebacker I’ve seen in awhile. Te’o attacks running backs, is not afraid to take on any lineman or fullback that tries to block him and he doesn’t let running backs escape tackles easily. Just look at his Michigan State tape. That was not a great game for Le’Veon Bell and Te’o was a large reason for that. 8.75/10.00
When the ball is snapped and Te’o is blitzing, Te’o is off like a cannon. He runs a 4.75 40 yard dash, and can chase down just about anyone at the line of scrimmage. His speed and burst can best be seen in Te’o’s sack of Landry Jones in the Oklahoma tape. He also sprints to catch up to any running back or receiver that gets past the line of scrimmage, no matter how far from the play he is. Te’o has great speed for a linebacker and his burst is as good as anyone’s. 8.5/10.0
If one just looks at Te’o’s biceps they can tell that he is one strong dude. His strength can also be seen when he take on offensive linemen and fullbacks that try to block him. It’s not an easy thing to take a 300+ pound offensive lineman and stop him dead in his tracks and be able to keep him where he is. Te’o possesses that ability because he is so strong. I’ll have a more accurate measurement of how strong Te’o is after he takes part in the bench press test tomorrow. 8.75/10.00
Te’o is a very strong tackler. In the Wake Forest tape, I did see him miss a couple of tackles, but normally Te’o is a very good form tackler who hits opposing players with a ton of force. Not many people can escape a tackle from Manti, which is one reason that he accumulated 437 tackles in his career. 9.0/10.0
READ AND REACT:
Te’o can read any play and react to extremely quickly. In many cases, it looked like Te’o knew what the opposing offense was going to do before the snap and was just waiting for the ball to move so that he could react to the play. I really noticed that in the Michigan tape. It was mostly on run plays, but it just looked like Te’o knew exactly what Denard Robinson and the rest of the Wolverine offense was up to. This or his tackling ability is his best quality and one that I really enjoyed seeing on tape. 9.5/10.0
There’s no physical injuries to report for Te’o, but the whole Lennay Kekua incident could lead to some mental issues, especially when he gets to the locker room after he gets drafted. But, he should just go out on the field, show what he can do, and that should go away quickly. 9.5/10.0
Manti Te’o gets an overall score of 8.69/10.00 from me. I have had the pleasure of seeing Manti play in person (Stanford @ Notre Dame in 2010) and between his motor and everything I listed above, I believe that Manti can be an All-Pro linebacker in the NFL. The one aspect of Te’o’s game that wasn’t taken into account above is how good he is in pass coverage. He figured something out between the end of the 2011 season and the beginning of the 2012 season because Te’o went from 0 picks in his career at Notre Dame to 7 in the course of one season. Many of those picks came in crucial situations and I believe that this will be the ability that whatever team that drafts him will love utilizing. It is something he does better than any linebacker in the 2013 draft. Now who will pick him? Personally, I believe that Te’o will be available at the end of the first round, because of the Lennay Kekua incident and questions about him that have risen from that, and the Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens will snatch him up. The Ravens are losing middle linebacker and future hall of famer Ray Lewis to retirement and they really couldn’t do better than picking up Manti Te’o as his replacement. Te’o will learn a lot playing alongside Terrell Suggs, Dannell Ellerbee and Courtney Upshaw. It’s not very fun being the man replacing the man, as Te’o would do if drafted by Baltimore, but I believe that he’ll be up to the challenge.
Let me know what you think in the comments below and follow me on Twitter! @J_Vinton52
Next, I will be previewing Matt Elam, SS, Florida!