Notre Dame middle linebacker Manti Te’o has had a brilliant senior season and is a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, and he’s widely viewed as a first-round pick in April’s NFL draft. But he’s not necessarily viewed as a sure thing in the NFL.
Albert Breer of NFL Network talked to several personnel people about Te’o, and although scouts like him, they don’t necessarily love him because some question whether he has the speed to be as impressive a player in pass coverage in the NFL as he has been this year at Notre Dame, when he had seven interceptions.
“Speed will be a factor with Manti, because you’re gonna be in a position to cover backs and tight ends at that spot, and not just on third down,” one AFC executive told Breer. “Teams throw on first and second down, so you have to be able to run and cover. You don’t want liabilities in coverage in your base. I don’t think he’s a liability. Does he run well enough? He’s not speed-deficient, but with his play speed, in covereage, there are some specific guys you’d have questions about. Guys like Jimmy Graham, Darren Sproles, or the [Chris] Cooley or [Dallas] Clark types, those guys get separation. You might be worried about him there.”
Knocking a linebacker because he’s not as quick as Darren Sproles strikes me as similar to knocking a cornerback because he’s not as big as Calvin Johnson, but the larger point is fair: NFL teams may be able to create some matchup advantages on pass plays by throwing over the middle and making the 6-foot-2, 255-pound Te’o drop into coverage.
Te’o has had a lot of eyes on him while playing for the No. 1 team in the country this year. He’ll also have a lot of eyes on him at the Scouting Combine, when it’s his turn to run the 40.