Manti Te’o I Notre Dame I ILB I 6020 I 255 I Senior
40 Time (E): 4.75
Overview: Manti Te’o is the emotional leader for one of the top defenses in the country. A well rounded athlete with the ability to play in any system. All 32 teams will be considering Te’o as he’s capable of playing inside in the 3-4 or any spot in the 4-3. Te’o excels behind the line of scrimmage and is a true three down linebacker. His ability to play downhill with excellent read and react skills should find his name called in the top 20 picks of April’s draft. I would hold off on all the talk that Te’o could be the top pick or even in the top five. Te’o isn’t an elite athlete in the mold of Patrick Willis, he wins with instincts, technique, and leadership. He lacks the pure athleticism to warrant consideration in the top five as many have suggested. His sweet spot is in the teens to twenties.
Pass Rush: Te’o is an effective pass rusher from his ILB spot in Notre Dame’s defense. Because of his effectiveness in rushing the passer many teams may consider moving Te’o to the strongside linebacker spot to optimize his ability to get after the QB. While Te’o lacks great long speed he has the burst to beat OL to the punch.
Run Defense: Te’o diagnoses run plays as well as anyone in this draft and in recent drafts. His instincts in the run game rival those of last year’s No. 9 overall pick Luke Kuechly. Te’o has a unique ability to use his hands to ward off lineman. He does this as well as anyone I’ve scouted. As stated earlier, Te’o is a straight-line downhill player that is capable of making a ton of plays in the opponents backfield. The only issue with Te’o in the run game is that he doesn’t change directions well and is susceptible to getting beat on misdirections. He’s a tight hipped, straight line athlete that doesn’t quite have the lateral agility to adjust quickly enough against misdirection.
Pass Coverage: At 255 pounds you would expect Te’o to struggle in pass coverage. As I described, he’s tight hipped and not a quick twitch athlete. It doesn’t show up in pass coverage. Te’o is excellent at covering backs out of the backfield and tight ends down the seam. He has a nose for the football and is capable of making plays in pass coverage. His instincts in the pass game are unrivaled in this year’s linebacker crop. Te’o gets to his drop zone quickly and reads the quarterback well. This is an underrated aspect of his game and will open the eyes of a lot of teams come April.
Instincts/Read and React: Te’o is an experienced linebacker and it shows up in his read and react skills. Te’o diagnoses the flow of the play and offensive lineman really well and usually is beating them to the spot. His instincts are that of an elite linebacker.
Tackling: Te’o isn’t the bone crushing tackler that most expect from someone his size. That said, he’s not going to miss many tackles. His does have a frustrating tendency to get dead legs on contact which led to others having to clean up tackles. Overall, he’s a solid tackler but an area that could be enough concern to keep him out of the top 10 of the draft.
Size/Strength/Athleticism: If you were going to draw up the physical prototype for an inside linebacker it would be Manti Te’o. At 6-foot-2, 255 pounds he has perfect size for the position. He displays great functional strength in his play as evidenced by his ability to take on and shed blockers. Te’o isn’t going to blow up the Combine. He’s a solid athlete but not in the elite category for the position. While he lacks long speed, he has the ability to make plays outside the hashes. He takes great angles to the ball which will make up for his lack of speed.
Intangibles: Te’o has intangibles in spades. He’s the emotional leader of his team and is capable of willing a defense to a big play. This may be what sets Te’o apart from Arthur Brown from me. While both are the clear leaders of their units, Te’o takes it to the next level. He has that ability to motivate others and brings their play up another level because they don’t want to let him down. It’s Ray Lewis-esque. Te’o is a selfless linebacker as evidenced by his willingness to play assignment football. Guys with Te’o skillsets often look to make the big, splash play. Te’o will take on the lead blocker and force the action outside to his teammates. He’s as technically sound as I’ve scouting in that regards.
Bottom Line: When you get to the level that Manti Te’o is at you get scrutinized more than others. It seems like nitpicking but if a team is looking at taking an ILB in the top five of the draft, there can’t be holes in his game. There are no doubts that Te’o is a solid player. For me, I don’t see him warranting a top five pick or top fifteen pick for that matter. If he falls beyond the twentieth pick, he becomes a solid value. Te’o is the definition of safe pick. The term ‘safe pick’ has taken on a negative connotation when it really is a complement. I said the same thing about Luke Kuechly last year and he’s amongst the league leaders in tackles as a rookie. Te’o is going to be a solid linebacker in the NFL that is capable of leading a defense.