Manti Te’o will be a first-round pick, but some question his speed


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.

54 responses to “Manti Te’o will be a first-round pick, but some question his speed

  1. Assuming he declares, I would honestly take Alabama LB C.J. Mosley before I would take Te’o, were I inclined to take a non-passrushing LB in the first round. I think Mosley is the better player in the NFL.

  2. Once upon a time, scouts declared Aaron Curry to be the safest pick in the entire draft. A linebacker who would anchor your defense for a decade was recently promoted to head cashier at Wal-Mart.

    Sometimes scouts are wrong about these things.

  3. That’s right. Let’s forget about game film, let’s forget about his body of work, let’s forget about his instincts, let’s forget about his leadership ability, blah blah blah. From all accounts he is a quaility guy. Hopefully he falls to the bottom of the first round, where as a rookie he’ll play for a good team vs. one that’s isn’t.

  4. overrated and over hyped because he plays for dame. most of those picks where thrown right at like in usc game so how is he not going to catch those? he has as many tackles from october on as a ohio state linebacker does. the thing is the buckye kid did not start playing linebacker until october when injuries forced to play for the first time since high school! where is his heisman nomination?

  5. “He is not gonna run a 40 at the combine. When was the last time a top prospect ran a 40 there and not his Pro Day”

    NFL Network must have had some amazing CGI effects to show RG3 running his 40 yard dash last year then.

  6. Who are these mysterious MLBs that can cover Darren Sproles and Jimmy Graham one on one? I haven’t seen them.

  7. these are prob the same scouts who said russel wilson will never be a good qb bec hes to short, or tannehill needs to sit a year because hes not ready, prob the same ppl who said jamarcus russel would be a stud…. point is you never know how any player will turn out until he gets on the field.

  8. There was another middle linebacker picked in end of the first round in 96 who they said didn’t have the speed for the NFL. His NAME then was Ray Lewis and now he goes by GOAT!

  9. There is a place for T’ao on a defense. Every team in the league could use him. Defenses are changing personnel to handle the quick guys over the middle. Most LBs can’t cover Sprole.

    T’ao wouldbe a perfect fit for Pittsburgh to replace Larry Foote

  10. Wasn’t the same said about Brandon Spikes? I think he’s worked out pretty darn well for NE and he’s not nearly as skilled as Te’o.

  11. Manti lost 15 pounds before this season. If he needs to he’ll lose more..he’s a hard worker..great work ethic..great person etc. He’ll do whatever it takes to get faster..kid has raw talent that doesn’t come around often.

  12. @pdmjr

    While I believe Wilson has had a great season, when no one believed he would even be starting, he is in no way, shape, or form been better the Luck or RG3 this year. He has the 29th ranked passing offense lol makes no sense.

    As far a Te’o, I think he could be good but he isn’t even the best LB in college. He has been overhyped by playing for ND and playing on an undeafeted team. A majority of those 7 picks he had were thrown directly at him. Not saying he won’t be good, because you never know. But I wouldn’t use a top 25 draft pick on him. I would definitely take Mosley out of Alabama over Te’o. Just my opinion though.

  13. I wonder if that scout has noticed that pretty much nobody else can cover Jimmy Graham either….

  14. Man, I’d love it if the Steelers would get him, but I can’t see him lasting to pick 32

  15. I think Teo is going to be an excellent middle linebacker in the NFL for a long time, but I think the questions are legitimate as it relates to how high he’ll go in the draft. For a LB to go high, fair or not, he has to show elite physical tools, and even then, that might not be enough (Patrick Willis had excellent tools, but went outside the top 10). The position is just one where many teams feel like, unless a player is an elite talent (and Aaron Curry/AJ Hawk are examples of guys that went high and weren’t elite), teams feel like they can wait.

    I think Teo has excellent instincts, good lateral movement, and solid speed, which should make him a capable 3-down linebacker, but I’m not sure he’s a guy you want running down the seams or in the flats. I hate comparing to potential HOF players, as it’s unfair to the prospect, but he might be similar to Ray Lewis in that, neither had great physical tools, but their ability to read and react were better than others. I think he can play 4-3 MIKE, but I wonder if he might be better in a 3-4 as an inside linebacker, where the long speed won’t be as important as his quickness, reaction time, and lateral movement.

  16. phillytj says: Dec 8, 2012 1:45 PM

    Agreed…what a poor assessment. Can any current pro MLB cover Jimmy Graham or Darren Sproles?! NO!
    Navarro Bowman & Patrick Willis.

  17. Nothing against the guy, but the example of Curry, a smart guy with seemingly all the tools, but couldn’t make the leap to an NFL defense. Also, the hype machine that comes out of South Bend can’t be discounted (though this guy has proven it) see Mirer, Rick, in so far as being hyped as a guaranteed first rounder.

    Honestly, I see this guy more like a Lofa Tatupuu in size and style of game..a good player that also wasn’t “fast” but hard hitting and made it to the Pro bowl a few times, but was a second round pick (which means less hype and expect ration, which helps in devlopment). If this guy can get in the right situation and put it all together, he can be in a similar position in the next 5 years or less.

  18. 6’2″ 255 is his size???

    Manti, lose 15 lbs before the combine and then you’ll run excellently!!!

    6’2″ 240 is a decent enough of a LB size.

  19. Nick Barnett needs a better teammate than Kelvin Shepherd. Te’o would fit in well with the up and coming Bills D. Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus, Shawne Merriman, Chris Kelsay, Nick Barnett, Nigel Bradham, Stephon Gilmore, Ron Brooks, George Wilson and Jairus Byrd.

  20. He’s a playmaker and a true leader. He’s exactly the kind of guy you want in the middle of your defense.

    If he’s available when the Bills pick, no way they could pass on him. He’s who they need in the LB corp.

  21. So not at all saying for sure manti is gonna be Pat Willis cause that is best MLB in game. Off subject but Bowman & Willis can cover any RB or TE in league so it is possiable. Anyway if you guys remember right there was some critics on Willis. Saying he wasnt worthy of top half of first round pick. They questioned his speed and size. So niners took him at 11th and did what they thought was best. It worked out beautifully so just saying every player has critics. But the team just needs to evaluate and make own decision. If they think Manti will be a stud and worth first round pick. Than they need to do it. If they don’t then they take a risk that he doesn’t make them regret it for next 12-15 years.

  22. Here we go once more with people grading based on stopwatches, bench presses, and sprints done in shorts and t-shirts. What are we drafting for again? Oh yeah – guys who can play football.

  23. He will have no problem in the NFL. He has “football instincts” that you can’t teach. He hasn’t been asked to cover a lot at ND this season, but play middle zone/run first, and “QB” the defense. He is a playmaker though. Plus, with so many defenses going to different looks, there will be a place for him. Look at the Colts who switched Robert Mathis to an OLB! He isn’t dropping back too much, but can if needed. And the Colts D has improved, maybe not on the stat sheet, but they are getting stops on 4th down b/c they aren’t playing Tampa 2 with the corners 10 yards off the WRs every down. My point is, Te’o is has a lot of intangibles, and a nose for the football. He will be stuffing a lot of RBs at the line of scrimmage on many Sundays in the coming years.

  24. Brandon Spikes was supposed to be slow too, but he is one of the best run stopping linebackers in the NFL. Te’o will be fine.

  25. The silly season has already started where people begin looking at stats and not trusting what they see. He passes the eye test…that simple. All who pass on him will regret it.

  26. To anyone saying Manti Te’o is overhyped, obviously you don’t watch Notre Dame football. I love how there are always people out there ready to find the first thin they can to knock a guy about. Go ahead everyone, pass on Te’o. I’d love to see one or my Irish greats get selected by my giants.

  27. Scots have missed badly with non pass rushers LB’s last few years (Mclain, Sims, Hawk, Curry just to name a few) now they want to find weakness in Manti Te’o, you can’t blame them really.
    I think he is not the next Patrick Willis or Ray Lewis but neither the next Mclain or Curry somewhere in between i guess.

  28. I have seen almost every game Manti has played at ND. He has improved every year. He is faster this year and can continue to improve. The comparisons are unfair. Curry was to play OLB or DE coming out. Never was he to play ILB. Also Notre Dame has nothing to do with Manti’s hype. Notre Dame has been down for so long that people thought they would never be good again. I was surprised that Teo even came to South Bend. And to the guy who says Notre Dame players make it to the NFL on hype. Rick Mirer was ROY. He played on a bad team. Some ND players don’t succeed in the NFL. But no more than any other school.

  29. Quick comment – for all the comparisons to Brandon Spikes, there’s a couple points that need to be noted. First, Spikes didn’t go in the first. The implication of this article, and Schefter’s blurb, was that Te’o would go in the first, but might not go high.

    2nd, and perhaps more importantly, Spikes fills a run-stuffing role in a 3-4. I believe that, in a 3-4, the inside backers lateral movement is as important as their vertical speed, and Spikes doesn’t fill the coverage role on that team for inside backers (Jerod Mayo has a lot more responsibility).

    Look at recent draft history. Not many interior 3-4 backers go high.

    This isn’t to say Te’o won’t be good (in fact, above, I said he’d be fine in the NFL). I don’t think the article implies that either. The article’s point is to discuss how safe Te’o is as a prospect, as risk is a big factor in the draft.

  30. As for Aaron Curry, it is my belief that he would be better off trying to latch onto a 3-4 team and playing inside, making the transition like AJ Hawk did (both guys were drafted high for the 4-3). I think Te’o has a bit more versatility than both guys in the 4-3, as I think he’s a better MIKE than either of those guys could be in the 4-3, but Te’o might be better off inside in a 3-4 as well.

    At the end of the day, going to a team that fits and values him is more important than going high.

  31. How about drafting based on game tape not 40 times. Plus the whole defense feeds off Te’o. He has that Ray Lewis factor were no one on the defense wants to be the guy to let him down.

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