Manti Te’o may be the most talked about linebacker of all time. His name is showing up in mock drafts from draft analysts across the country, and the majority of drafts have Te’o being selected in the first round. For me, this led to more questions than answers, and I don’t believe the Bengals should take him despite their linebacking needs.
How many analysts watched Notre Dame play this year? Who watched film of Te’o in the National Championship game against Alabama? Alabama is easily the most NFL-like team in college football. How bad did Te’o really struggle? NFL coaches will dissect his Alabama film the most when they decide where to put him on their draft board.
The Cincinnati Bengals have a need at linebacker, so naturally Te’o could be an option after the great season he had. He was the Heisman Trophy runner-up, won numerous awards including the Collegiate Player of the Year award and led Notre Dame to the National Championship game. But, after looking at what he did in the most important game of his career, he has fallen out of the first-round.
Analysts mention his 4.8 40-yard dash and say it isn’t a big deal. They say linebacker is more about instincts than speed. Against Alabama, Te’o showed why speed is important for linebackers to have. Alabama ran a screen to Eddie Lacy. Te’o read it right away. As soon as the guard pulled he knew it was coming. Te’o ran five steps before Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron released the ball. He was still late getting there and instead of tackling Lacy for a three-yard loss, Lacy ran through his arm tackle to gain positive yardage. He couldn’t have read the screen any better, but he still didn’t make the play.
There were numerous sequences where Te’o ran underneath blocks. That immediately takes him out of the play. He didn’t show the discipline or fundamentals that come with playing middle-linebacker. There were times he looked reluctant to hit an opposing player and hesitated before contact was made.
Te’o didn’t show anything that made him stand out. He’s in the biggest game of his life and he struggled on the first series. How does he respond? By playing worst and struggling even more on the next series. That tells me he is mentally weak. Alabama head coach Nick Saban continued to exploit Te’o as the game went on.
On the second drive Te’o was fooled on a play-action fake to Lacy who had owned the Notre Dame defense on a long run the play before. McCarron then threw it to his wide open tight end in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. It was clear that Te’o was confused and wasn’t going to recover.
Te’o was supposed to be the best defender in the country, but I’m not sure he was the best defender on his own team. Safety Zeke Motta looked better on film, and could be a better fit for Cincinnati.
There are plenty of other players the Bengals could draft with the 21st selection. Te’o could fall to the second or third round based on his performance against Alabama. A team may overlook his struggles in the championship game and use a first-round pick on him, but it doesn’t seem likely. Bengals fans shouldn’t have to worry about seeing Te’o in stripes this April, at least not with their first selection in the draft.