A month ago, Vikings fans would have salivated over the idea of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o falling into their laps at the #23 spot of the upcoming NFL Draft.
Now, however, Te’o has found himself in the middle of one of the most bizarre stories to hit the sports world since… well, possibly ever. The story of Te’o being a part of one of the biggest hoaxes of all time has led most to wonder about his character, and also doubt his ability to be a leader in the NFL which was one of his best attributes in college.
One thing that has become explicitly clear over the last few weeks are that the special connection that Te’o had with football lovers around the nation was every bit as fictional as his online girlfriend.
Weirdness and intangibles aside, Te’o still possesses first round caliber abilities and one can’t help but wonder what the Vikings might do if he is available when they are on the clock. After all, the Vikings could clearly use some help at the linebacker position and G.M. Rick Spielman has an affinity for players coming out of Notre Dame.
Te’o has four years of experience, with progressive production coming from each season, as the heart of Notre Dame’s front season. He is a very strong and sound tackler that does a good job of getting around or through blocks to make a play. He plays the run with great instincts and discipline, which seems to rub off on the rest of the defense.
Te’o also possesses a range and fluidity in pass coverage that the Vikings defense could desperately use. Over his career he has displayed an ability to play smart zone coverage (17 passes defended) and has a knack for heads-up plays (7 interceptions).
There are questions about Te’o’s speed and athleticism, and his forty time will be highly anticipated at the Scouting Combine, but I felt like he already answered a lot of those questions by dropping into coverage a lot more during his senior year with great success. 11 of his defended passes (and all seven picks) came in his senior year.
With all of that said, there is no doubt that Te’o isn’t the fastest linebacker in the world, and isn’t going to wow any scouts with his blitz abilities. For the Vikings defense under Alan Williams, who seldom asks his linebackers to blitz, Te’o could be a great addition to a defense that places a lot of emphasis on stopping the run.
The whole hoax thing could make the Vikings a good fit for Te’o. He would be surrounded by former teammates and other Notre Dame greats, which Rick Spielman has loaded up on recently. Safety Harrison Smith would be playing right behind Te’o. He could line up on special teams with Robert Blanton. Kyle Rudolph and John Carlson are on the offensive side of the ball along with center John Sullivan. There also may not be a head coach better equipped to deal with Te’o’s unique situation than Leslie Frazier is.
I have little doubt that Te’o could step into the regular season as a starter on this defense, besting either Jasper Brinkley or Erin Henderson. I’m not convinced that he would be the guy we want to be selected at #23, but I am also not convinced that he isn’t, as it would depend greatly on what other options exist when they are on the clock.
Here are some of his highlights from college: