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Manti Te’o LB Notre Dame #5
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Size/Athleticism: Prototypical size and strength for an inside linebacker, and could easily shift to strong-side linebacker in a 4-3 scheme. Straight-line speed is more than adequate for the position. Not as quick and fluid as he is fast, but not necessarily weak in that area either.
Run Defense: Excellent recognition ability. A tackling machine, but more so due to his ability to put himself in position to make a play than his raw athleticism. A scrappy player who can fight through traffic. Despite his size, doesn’t shed blocks as quicky and consistently as you’d expect. Once he’s engaged with an offensive linemen, he can be taken out of a play fairly easily. Fast enough to make some plays in pursuit. Not an elite athlete, and will get juked out of some would-be tackles in the open field, but is very strong fundamentally and rarely misses a tackle once he’s got someone wrapped up.
Pass Rush: Relatively effective when rushing off the edge. Lacks the strength to ever be a pure pass rusher, but has the speed to be effective in certain situations. Does a nice job staying low when turning the corner, making him tough for taller offensive linemen to get a hand on him. Not as effective when blitzing up the middle. Does a really nice job fighting through traffic against the run, but isn’t explosive or agile enough to slip through holes in the line, which are skills needed to be an effective pass rusher from the inside linebacker position.
Coverage: Looks comfortable in zone coverage. Does a great job reading the quarterback and putting himself in position to make plays. Limited experience in man coverage and lacks the fluid athleticism to excel in this area. He has the straight-line speed to get downfield but just doesn’t have the quickness to stay with the elite pass-catching tight ends that he’ll see at the next level. He’ll excel when matched up with short-yardage pass-catchers (such as Gronkowski) due his fundamentals and physical style of play, but he shouldn’t be asked to cover the hybrid tight end/receivers (such as Jermichael Finley).
Intangibles: Four-year starter with plenty of experience against top competition. Clashed with head coach Brian Kelly at times, but Kelly’s brash coaching style is at least partially to blame. I wouldn’t expect his attitude to be an issue in the pros.
Durability: Suffered a sprained knee during during 2010 bowl game and had minor knee surgery in the offseason, and was limited during spring practices. Suffered a broken nose in 2010, but played through the injury. Played on an injured ankle for much of the 2011 season.
Comments: Te’o is one of the more recognizable names in this draft class and, as a result, is probably a little overrated. He’s a classic example of a prospect who does everything well but nothing great. He definitely has NFL starter potential, but his upside is somewhat limited. He could be a great pick for a team that needs to plug a hole immediately, because his experience and strong fundamentals makes him one of the more NFL-ready prospects in this draft. However, I don’t expect to see significant development once he’s in the pros. Basically, what you see is what you get.