2.06 San Diego Chargers Manti Te’o, ILB, Notre Dame (6-1¼, 241)
With the sixth selection (38th overall) in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft, the San Diego Chargers select inside linebacker Manti Te’o from Notre Dame. Te’o was a projected first round draft pick by mostly every draft pundit that slipped down the draft boards for a myriad of reasons. The first reason he slipped is the off-field issues regarding the Lennay Kekua hoax and questions surrounding what the real story was. Many teams had to be worried that Te’o was incredibly naïve; they did not want to invest a first round selection in a guy that fell victim to such a hoax and then make him the face of their franchise, plus the anchor and leader of their defense. Locker room issues could be popping up as the media will create a circus atmosphere around the inside linebacker. I don’t believe that this is the main reason Te’o fell into the second round, but it may have slightly contributed to the plunge.
So, let’s get beyond these off-the-field issues and discuss what really made him a second round selection, his abilities on the gridiron. In 2012, Te’o had 113 tackles (5.5 for a loss) and 1.5 sacks. He grabbed seven interceptions and added in four pass breakups. His performance throughout the season made him cash in with the Nagurski Award, the Lombardi Trophy, the Bednarik Award, the Maxwell Trophy and the Walter Camp National Player of the Year. The best part of Te’o’s game is his top-notch instincts; this becomes very dangerous and problematic for opposing offenses when combined with his aggressiveness. He is able to diagnose whether the play is pass or run in an instant and uses this skill to increase his range from sideline to sideline. These instincts also make him play much faster than his 40 time, which needs to be true with the unspectacular time he put up. He is also great at pre-snap positioning, which allows him to be in the correct spot for the run-stop or pass defense. Te’o is a solid, fundamental tackler; he is able to wrap up well and is very reliable when called upon for an important tackle. He uses his instincts and positioning to get the right angles for the tackle.
But there are issues in the game of Te’o that caused him to fall into the second round. He is more quick than fast on the field, as shown through his 40 time. If Te’o does not correctly diagnose an opposing play, he has trouble rebounding due to his lack of pure speed. Te’o has trouble covering the quicker tight ends or running backs and this can limit his ability to stay on the field in nickel and dime packages. He also struggles against opposing blockers one-on-one, as shown in the National Championship game. He does not get off of blocks well and can get pushed around when he attacks the blockers from the wrong angle. In coverage, he needs to work on his fluidity in order to stay with his man more consistently. Overall, I worry that Te’o relies on his instincts and positioning too much and may not be able to translate this to the professional level, where offenses are more complex. He has good skills that will allow him to be a part of the NFL well into the future, but probably not as an all-time great that many envisioned him to be when playing at Notre Dame.