When scouting players, there are tangible variables that are examined in order to try and predict success at the NFL level. These include things like size, speed, strength, etc. There are also intangible factors that aren’t necessarily measurable, but are certainly important when prospecting a player to the NFL.
One of these intangible factors is how players show up in big games.
Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o had already shown up in a big game earlier this season when he led the Irish to a big victory over Michigan state, a game Te’o played just days after the deaths of his girlfriend and grandmother.
That kind of dedication and guts just simply can’t be measured in combine tests.
This weekend, Te’o showed up again as the Irish traveled to Oklahoma to take on the Sooners. The Irish prevailed in dominant fashion. Te’o was all over the field, shutting down the Sooners run game and looking as good as he ever has in coverage.
Te’o's size and aggressive, north-south playing style had led many, including myself, to begin to typecast him as a 3-4 inside linebacker only. I thought he could play inside in the 4-3, but he may only be a two-down linebacker similarly to Curtis Lofton of the Falcons/Saints.
However, Te’o is showing that despite playing at almost 260 pounds, he has the athleticism and coverage instincts to hang with the athletic receivers of Oklahoma as well as just about every other team they have played this season. He is putting tape out there of a complete linebacker with NFL size and ability. I thought Te’o originally would go in the late first, early second range as a talented two-down lane clogger.
Unless Te’o massively disappoints in offseason activities, I could see him going as high up as Luke Kuechly last year, with potential to dip into the top 10. I still believe, mainly due to positional value, that you can’t pass on the defensive line talent in the top 10 to go for a mike backer, but Te’o is showing he can come in and be a tone setter for a team looking for a presence in the middle.
Notre Dame still has some more big games coming up, but Te’o has answered the call up to this point and we don’t have any reason to suggest that he won’t again.