Manti Te'o will be a guest on Jon Gruden's QB Camp prior to the 2013 NFL draft, but before the founder of Fired Football Coaches of America gets to him, I'm here to offer some free advice, for what it's worth.
Notre Dame's polarizing perception, the beating the Fighting Irish took at the hands of the Alabama Crimson Tide in the national title game, the strange Lenny Kekua hoax, and Te'o's initially inflated draft stock evaluation ultimately have made him appear to be a much worse NFL prospect than he really is.
Upon watching just about every Notre Dame game during the year then re-watching the footage of Te'o that's available online, it's easy to see that he's quite the middle linebacker prospect.
At 6'2'' and a thick 255 pounds, at its foundation, his body is ready to man the middle of an NFL defense.
Why's the weight important?
Well, theoretically, he'll be much more difficult to move off the ball, and won't be as easily engulfed by mammoth offensive linemen when attempting to make a tackle.
This was illustrated on a run play against Stanford in 2012.
After initially chipping on one of Notre Dame's defensive tackles, the Stanford center moved to the second level and collided with Te'o.
Te'o absorbed the hit and recognized where the ball-carrier intended to run.
He wasn't pushed downfield, maintained leverage and disengaged from the block before helping to make the tackle.
Te'o is instinctive when tracking the ball and seems to understand how critical it is to take the proper angle to avoid potentially huge gains on cutbacks.
As a pass defender, Te'o improved in every season in South Bend. During the 2012 season, many of his interceptions were the result of tipped passes or simply bad decisions by the opposing quarterback, but Te'o diagnoses pass plays rather quickly and is fast enough to run with most tight ends down the field.
He drops deep into coverage comfortably—zone or man—and has demonstrated fluidity when switching from his backpedal to a downhill attack of a scrambling quarterback.
Te'o missed more than two tackles before the national title game—that's for sure—but he is a sturdy tackler and occasionally lowers the boom on runners and receivers in the open field.
Enough praise, though.
Here are the ways in which Te'o can maximize his chances to succeed at the NFL level.
Te'o's weight doubles as a positive and a negative. It will be harder for offensive linemen to move him, but because he's not the fastest defender from sideline to sideline, he could stand to lose a bit of weight before taking the field as a professional.
There's no guarantee that losing five to 10 pounds would increase his overall speed, but it certainly won't make him slower.
Though Te'o moves well—laterally and vertically—for his size, he isn't the most impressive athlete, and his foot speed could be a little faster, especially when lining up against the NFL's new breed of ultra-athletic tight ends and H-backs.
Losing some weight could make Te'o move just a quarter of a step more swiftly, which oftentimes is the difference between a missed tackle and a stop near the line of scrimmage.
No, it won't magically make him more athletic, but with more teams passing more frequently than ever before, Te'o would help himself by getting lighter to improve his speed.
We may never know what was going on in the mind of Te'o during the national title game against Alabama and how it may have affected his play, but some concerning tackling habits were highlighted on the game's biggest stage.
Te'o has the tendency to lunge at the ball, especially when he comes on a blitz or gets a free run at the ball.
Check the way Te'o whiffed on Stanford's Stepfan Taylor without being touched by a blocker:
Instead of lowering his center of gravity and staying balanced, he dove uncontrollably, making it easy for Taylor spin off him.
If that habit continues, more nimble NFL running backs will make Te'o miss often.
Like most linebackers, Te'o thrives coming downhill, and he is particularly devastating when doing so because of his size and inherent physical style of play.
But, when he recognizes he has an unencumbered opportunity to make a huge tackle on a runner, he'd be much better off breaking down on his close out—like a receiver ready to cut on a route—squaring himself to the ball and making a fundamental form tackle with his wide frame and substantial power.
Frankly, there isn't much Te'o can change or improve from a technical standpoint in pass coverage. He drifts naturally into the deep middle, locks onto tight ends well and intuitively comes off his man to make plays on open receivers in his area.
If anything, shedding weight could help him to run with the league's supremely gifted tight ends, but he's about as NFL-ready as you'd hope a middle linebacker to be from a coverage perspective.
Manti Te'o could benefit from dumping some weight, as it should make him slightly faster from sideline to sideline and when chasing running backs, tight ends and running quarterbacks.
As long as he stays technically sound and squares up while creating a broad base in front of ball-carries, he shouldn't get into a ton of trouble against the run.
Te'o would probably fit best as a 3-4 inside linebacker, a position in which he wouldn't be asked to cover a ton of ground, but he certainly could come in and be a zone-heavy team's 4-3 middle linebacker.
Frankly, Te'o's imposing size, instincts, aggressive style of play and football IQ make him one of the safer prospects in the draft, I'm just not sure he's worth an early first-round pick, because he doesn't have superstar athleticism or a ton of upside.