Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o is quietly emerging as a candidate for the No. 1 overall selection in the 2013 NFL draft, but is he worthy of the praise being heaped on him at this point?
ESPN's Mel Kiper believes that Te'o is a can't miss prospect, and a team such as the Kansas City Chiefs should make the Nortre Dame star the first overall pick when the 2013 NFL draft rolls around.
Te'o, a star inside linebacker for the Fighting Irish, isn't the sexiest pick in the draft when compared to some big name quarterbacks such as Geno Smith or defensive linemen like Jarvis Jones, but he's a quality player that a franchise can build around.
Now in his second year with Notre Dame, Te'o has evolved into an all-around linebacker who can play all three downs thanks to his exceptional athleticism and football IQ that allow him to not only be a force against the run, but play coverage defending the pass efficiently as well.
The problem for Te'o is his position at inside linebacker. It's not a high-profile position, and NFL franchises would rather take a risk on prospects at positions that can change the team right away, so quarterbacks and defensive lineman are almost always the first off the board.
In fact, the last linebacker to be taken No. 1 overall occurred in the 1988 NFL draft when the Atlanta Falcons selected Auburn's Aundray Bruce.
None of this is to say Te'o isn't deserving of the No. 1 overall selection. As mentioned, he's a future NFL star that teams can build around. In 10 games so far in 2012, Te'o has accumulated 90 total tackles, 1.5 sacks and six interceptions.
Statistically, Te'o shows off his versatility, but he's even more impressive on film. Schematically he appears to be an ideal inside linebacker in a 4-3 at the next level, but will likely thrive in whatever scheme he ends up with.
Even if the Chiefs were to land the No. 1 overall selection as Kiper suggests, Kansas City passing on Te'o for a quarterback makes more sense. While Te'o would be a perfect fit next to Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, the Chiefs need a legitimate quarterback to become a viable NFL franchise once again.
The upcoming draft is littered with potential franchise quarterbacks who will establish themselves as we move closer to selection day.
Geno Smith of West Virginia, Tyler Wilson of Arkansas, Tyler Bray of Tennessee and USC's Matt Barkley are all quarteback prospects who have a chance to emerge as franchise players more worthy of the first pick.
The defensive line is the other positional group typically taken first overall, and there are plenty of talented prospects there who could emerge as worthy such as LSU's Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo, Bjoern Werner of Florida State, Star Lotulelei of Utah and Jarvis Jones from Georgia.
Add in a few top-tier offensive linemen such as Luke Joeckel out of Texas A&M, a positional group that sometimes makes an appearance as the first overall pick, and it's unlikely Te'o will be able to break through as the absolute best player available come draft day.
For a realistic projection of where Te'o could end up, one has to only look as far back as last year's draft. The highest linebacker taken, Carolina Panthers rookie Luke Kuechly, was selected No. 9 overall out of Boston College.
Kuechly is a faster, more athletic version of Te'o who has the ability to also play at an outside linebacker position. Te'o is slower in terms of sideline-to-sideline ability, which limits him to only an inside role.
Kuechly's versatility is likely what ended up landing him in the top 10 last year, but it's hard to give Te'o that same nod when stacking him up against the Panthers' star.
We're selling Te'o as the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NFL draft. There's no doubt he's an elite prospect that will have a wildly successful NFL career, but given the nature of his position and the high-impact prospects he has to go up against to claim the top spot, it's unlikely Te'o will be selected in the top 10, let alone first overall.
To his credit, Te'o is the safest pick in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft. Unfortunately for Te'o, sometimes that isn't good enough to be selected first overall in today's NFL.
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