Perhaps no player in college football has become more of a compelling figure than Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o. Te’o, known for always being an emotional leader during his four year tenure with the Irish, lead Notre Dame on an inspirational run to the National Championship this past season. The Irish were decimated by the National Champion Alabama Crimson Tide, but no defeat may ever be worse than the one suffered to Te’o's image. Te’o was involved in one of the most highly regarded ‘catfish’ hoax’s in memorable history. While Te’o the player leaves little to doubt about how he’ll successfully translate to the NFL, Te’o the person is an open book full of question marks.
6’2” 255 lbs
Manti Te’o may be the most complete middle linebacker in the entire 2013 NFL Draft. He’s extremely efficient against the run, and is often found involved in nearly every play. He’s very instinctive, which is key for a middle linebacker in the NFL, as they are technically the quarterback of the defense, and need to have great awareness of what’s unfolding in front of them, to put their fellow defenders in the right places to make stops. One of Te’o's biggest strengths is his ability to stop the run. Te’o is a very instinctive player, and explodes into the hole, creating havoc in the backfield. While Te’o is not the greatest coverage linebacker, due in large part to his stiff lower body, he isn’t what you would call a liability. Te’o will be able to cover the average tight end at the next level efficiently, but you won’t see him running with Mike Wallace. Te’o is a natural born leader, and there’s not much debate to that. Te’o was the heart and soul of the Notre Dame defense the past four seasons, and will be expected to carry that same persona with him to whichever NFL franchise selects him in April’s draft. Te’o's strong upper-body allows him to lay the hammer when he puts himself in position to make tackles. He’s rarely seen whiffing on tackles, and only had two noted missed tackles in the entire 2012 campaign. What ultimately may be the best attribute Te’o possesses is that he will be able to contribute as an every down linebacker in the NFL. He has all of the tools to be a full-time starting middle linebacker at he next level.
Before we discuss any of Te’o's weaknesses as a player, we cannot ignore the weakness in his character. While every person will have a different opinion of the hoax Te’o was involved in this past season, no matter how you look at it, it just looks plain weird. Te’o was lead to believe he had met a woman online, who he became intimately involved with over the course of three years, leading up to her apparent death to cancer in September of 2012. Te’o and the Irish used this as motivation, and it seemed as though fate was on their side, as they rode Te’o and his heart breaking story all the way to the National Championship. Te’o will be grilled at the Combine, as well as his Pro Day. Reports have surfaced that he will not answer any questions regarding Lennay Kekua, or the hoax. Te’o the player does have flaws, one being his inability to be an asset in the passing game at the next level. Te’o is an average coverage linebacker at best, but will see match-up issues against more athletic tight ends and runningbacks. While Te’o is an emotional leader, he can also be an emotional downer. It has been rumored that Te’o is very much in love with himself and the attention he gets for being the best player on the most recognized team in college football history. Te’o will most likely be drafted to be the face of a team for a decade or more, and if he’s going to be marketed as a role model he will need to sure up his attitude if a team is going to sell him to a fan base. Te’o is not what you would call naturally fast, but game fast. He has the skill-set similar to what you would describe as a “gamer”. Te’o can’t just pick up quickness overnight, and will need to stay in top shape to remain athletic enough to play the pass in the NFL.
Te’o could see himself go anywhere in the Draft from the Top-10 all the way to the beginning of Round Two. There are teams throughout the league that will pass on Te’o because of this hoax, and his apparent character issues. However, it only take one team, and that one team will fall in love with Te’o on tape, or at the combine, and overlook his character concerns. A team that could look to take Te’o the player rather than Te’o the person, is the New York Jets. When looking to compare Manti Te’o to an NFL player, think along the lines of DeMeco Ryans of the Philadelphia Eagles.