The most underrated need for the Denver Broncos heading into the 2013 season is at the MLB position. Every seems to assume Nate Irving or some other young gun will step up and become the foundation of the middle of the defense, but it would be a mistake for the Broncos brass to put all of their eggs in one basket. Especially if one of the runners-up for the Heisman Trophy is still on the board at #28.
Once upon a time, Ray Lewis was falling off the board late into the first round. How many teams would have "reached" for him had they known he would go on to be the most dominate linebacker and leader of his era? Drafting Manti Te'o here would is not even close to being a reach, considering his draft stock was much higher before he was catfished in monumentally embarrassing fashion.
Draft Profiles for Manti Te'o
Pre-hoax, most experts had Te'o going highly in the first round. Some even mocked him as a top 5 pick. Having watched a lot of Notre Dame games, I felt he was a solid Top 15 draft pick, so if he falls down the board John Elway and company should give him a hard look.
Strengths: Aggressive middle linebacker with a thick overall build. Vocal leader on the off the field, communicates the call and moves teammates into place when necessary. Downhill player who recognizes plays and closes quickly. Provides pop as a tackler, capable of thumping the ballcarrier and wrapping up to secure the stop. Aware run-stopper between the tackles, finds the ball and can mirror backs to prevent cutbacks. Stops backs’ momentum on first contact and drive them backwards. Takes on linemen and fullbacks, can bounce or use his hands to rip off and make a stop. Hustles to recover from cut blocks, work through double teams at the second level. Shows enough movement skills to follow stretch plays to either sideline and cover running backs in the flat. Drops to the first-down marker, but is able to close on receivers and backs over the middle to prevent yards after the catch. Attacks gaps as a delayed blitzer, will try to work past the shoulder of linemen picking him up. High character player who performs community service and became an Eagle Scout in 2008.
Weaknesses: Only average height for the position. Linemen and bigger tight ends have a size and length advantage, can ride him out of plays. Backpedal is high and stiff on his drops. Must prove he has the short-area quickness and long speed to stay with tight ends and receivers in coverage. Takes false steps on play action and misdirection; has only adequate recovery speed. Blunt instrument as a tackler, slips off some tackles when trying to make a big hit. Comes into ballcarriers with his head down at times, allowing them to elude him.
NFL Comparison: DeMeco Ryans
Bottom Line: Te’o has become the All-American middle linebacker everyone expected coming out of high school, receiving high marks for his character and leadership ability. After some suggested he could be one of the top picks in April's draft, Te'o took a step back against a very good Alabama offensive line during the BCS National Championship. As a hammer between the tackles, the Irish star will be a great inside backer for any 4-3 team, but some may question his ability to reach edge plays or get over blocks in time.
Strengths: Possesses a typical Polynesian build. Has a stocky, powerful frame with overall weight distribution and a naturally low-center of gravity which aids him in anchoring against blockers. Shows very good key and diagnosis skills, correctly identifying the intent of the play and quickly attacking. May not possess elite straight-line speed as timed in workouts but consistently gets to the edge due to his lateral agility, balance and anticipation. Generally a reliable open field tackler. Brings his hips as he hits the ball-carrier, powering through him and wrapping his arm securely for the tackle. Does a nice job of forcing the ballcarrier to commit, rarely allowing cut-back opportunities. Returned for his senior season dedicated to making himself a more productive defender against the pass and was incredibly successful in those role, demonstrating not only better speed and fluidity but instincts in coverage. Entered his senior campaign with zero career interceptions but recorded seven in 2012 to lead all FBS linebackers. Showed much better awareness, body control and ball-skills in this regard as a senior. Known throughout his career as a leader and a man of integrity. Voted a team captain. Earned the prestigious Eagle Scout award in 2008.
Weaknesses: Does not possess elite straight-line speed and may struggle to beat the NFL's faster backs to the edge. Was protected by an awfully talented defensive front at Notre Dame and struggled to get off blocks against Alabama when they were unable to keep blockers away from him. While remarkably productive as a pass defender in 2012, does not possess ideal change-of-direction skills for man coverage responsibilities against NFL pass-catchers. May have shorter than ideal arm-length, which contributed to his slipping off ballcarriers, on occasion. Regardless of the reason, Te'o played poorly in the biggest game of his life... Must reassure NFL teams in the pre-draft process that he is the man of integrity he'd been characterized as throughout his career.
NFL Comparison: AJ Hawk, ILB, Green Bay Packers -- Like Hawk, Te'o may struggle to live up to his hype in the NFL after a dominant collegiate career. Nevertheless, the instinctive and stout run-defender will ultimately prove to be a quality inside linebacker whose consistency and leadership help push his NFL team towards success.
- Good tackler
- Blitzing ability
- Skilled in pass coverage
- Reads quarterbacks eyes
- Around the ball
- Tendency to make plays in the clutch
- Advanced technique
- Gets deep in his pass drops
- Reliable defender
- Football I.Q.
- Good communicator
- Good teammate
- Loves football
- Scheme versatility
- May not have enough speed for the next level
- Needs more strength to defend the run effectively in the NFL
- Man coverage against tight ends, running backs
- Getting off blocks
NFL Comparison: James Laurinaitis. Te'o is very similar to Laurinaitis coming out of college. Both linebackers had productive careers but entered the NFL with speed concerns. Laurinaitis has turned into a quality middle linebacker for the Rams. He is a good run-defender and is capable of making plays in the passing game. Laurinaitis (6-2, 247) wins with instincts and intelligence. Te'o is a similar size and could turn into a linebacker in the mold of Laurinaitis. The Ohio State product slipped to the second round and that seems very possible for Te'o.
Many folks are incredibly down on Manti Te'o because of the media passage of guilt through their "how stupid can he be, he had to have been in on it" mantra. In my mind, there is a huge difference between intelligence and naivety. Te'o displayed incredible naivety, but his 3.5 GPA in his four years at Notre Dame suggests above average intelligence. I would be beyond thrilled to have this guy anchoring the middle of the Broncos defense in 2013, but I suspect some other team will end up coming to same conclusions I did and draft him much earlier than 28th overall.
The guy was one of the runner-ups for the Heisman Trophy and dominated his position throughout his collegiate career. Catfishing aside, its not like he has off the field problems, beats women or on trial for murder. He's just naive. As Broncos fans, we should see naive when it exists because we had Tim Tebow as our freaking quarterback for two years! Matters of the heart will muddle any issue, so here is to hoping Te'o dons orange and blue in 2013!
Would any of you be excited about Elway picking up Te'o at #28?