2013 NFL Draft: Where will Manti Te’o land?

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Five potential landing spots for Manti Te'o

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

If it wasn’t for a lackluster National Championship performance and a scandal that was blown way out of proportion, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o would be considered a Top 15 talent heading into the 2013 NFL Draft.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

Instead, speculation has run rampant this offseason as to what type of player Te’o will be at the next level. Whether the questions stemmed from on-field performance, pre-draft workouts or intangibles, Te’o’s draft stock has suffered immensely these past few months as a result of the scrutiny.

Still, it’s hard to overlook the fact that Te’o has talent. Prior to the last game of his college career, many considered him a top NFL prospect. Heck, the guy was named a runner-up for the Heisman Trophy – as a defensive player.

Did I miss something or are people just finding reasons not to like this guy because he’s a bit naïve?

Regardless of what girlfriends he may or may not have had, there’s potential in Te’o to be an outstanding linebacker at the next level. He’s a sell-out type of player who excels against both the run and pass. Nobody at Notre Dame would ever question his leadership skills, and that’s a huge chunk of being a successful middle linebacker.

All skepticism aside, Te’o has the tools to be a first-round draft pick. NFL teams know it, and that’s why he won’t make it outside of the Top 32 picks. With that in mind, here’s a look at a few of the teams that could be giving him a call come April 25.

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Cincinnati Bengals

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When the Bengals re-signed middle linebacker Rey Maualuga this offseason, most assumed he’d be moving back outside and away from the position that helped derail what was once a prominent NFL career. Instead, the team made it clear that he was brought back to continue making the middle linebacker position one of the weakest for Cincinnati. Hopefully, by the time the draft rolls around, the Bengals will realize that Maualuga doesn’t belong in the middle. Instead, an option could be to draft Te’o and plug him on the inside with up-and-comers Vontaze Burfict and Dontay Moch supporting him on the outsides. Regardless of your feelings towards Te’o, he can’t be any worse than Maualuga was in 2012.

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New York Giants

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

For years now, the Giants have struggled to find a middle linebacker who could be the consistent leader of their defense. They thought they found the answer in Keith Rivers, but he turned out to be nothing more than a bust. Over the last couple of seasons, Chase Blackburn has held his own, but didn’t make enough of an impact to warrant a new deal in 2013. I know some of you are wondering, but neither Dan Connor nor Mark Herzlich is the answer. It’s time for another attempt from the Giants, who have historically been unwilling to invest much when it comes to linebackers. If they drafted Te’o, he’d immediately plug in at the middle linebacker spot and help improve one of the weakest defenses in the NFL.

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Chicago Bears

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The Brian Urlacher era appears to be at an end, and for good reason. Age and injury had worn his tires too thin, and the Bears weren’t willing to move forward with him as their starter in the middle. Now, with the loss of Nick Roach and age becoming a factor for Lance Briggs, Chicago is in a dire position at linebacker. They need a new middle linebacker who can be the face of the franchise and help return the Bears defense to prominence. While he’s far from a sure thing, Te’o can be that guy. He has the leadership skills, instincts and well-rounded style of play that Chicago needs, and can help the city get over the ugly breakup with Urlacher.

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Baltimore Ravens

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The loss of legendary linebacker Ray Lewis is going to affect the Ravens for years to come. Especially with Dannell Ellerbe jumping ship this offseason and Baltimore failing to find a capable replacement for either, the inside linebacker spot is a complete wreck for the Ravens. With Jameel McClain still recovering from injury, the team needs to look towards the draft for help at the position as well as leadership to lessen the blow of losing Lewis. Enter Te’o, a promising young star who has the intangibles to take over the leadership role that Lewis vacated. While he’ll never come close to filling Lewis’ shoes, Te’o is an outstanding talent who can grow into the role and help usher Baltimore into a new era of Ravens football.

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Minnesota Vikings

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With the departure of Jasper Brinkley via free agency this offseason, the Vikings are left without a starting-caliber middle linebacker on the roster. They’ve made it clear that they plan on addressing the position via the draft, and have shown a heavy interest in Te’o over the last month or so. GM Rick Spielman has shown a knack for drafting high-character players, and regardless of the scandal, Te’o is a quality person as well as player. If they like what they see and hear during pre-draft workouts and meetings, the Vikings might just find the confidence to spend one of their first-round picks on the former golden domer.

Gil Alcaraz IV is a Content Planner/NFL Featured Columnist for Follow him on Twitter @GilAlcarazIV, like him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.