When LB Manti Te'o mentioned during his NFL combine press conference that one of the teams he had visited with was the Green Bay Packers, many Cheeseheads awoke from their offseason slumber to ponder the following question:
Could Ted Thompson possibly draft Manti Te'o?
The obvious answer is yes. The Packers under Thompson have subscribed to the drafting practice of selecting the best player available, regardless of need. If Te'o were to fall to Green Bay in either the first or second round (various mock drafts have him being selected in either round), it's very possible the Packers will consider selecting the Notre Dame linebacker.
Perhaps the better question is should the Packers select Te'o. Linebacker is a position the Packers struggled with in 2012 outside of Clay Matthews, but that was mainly due to injury. Desmond Bishop, D.J. Smith and rookie Nick Perry all finished the season on injured reserve and their replacements did an average if not decent job.
Then there's A.J. Hawk, who is not a guarantee to return to the Packers in 2013. If Hawk is not signed to a restructured contract then he will be traded or, more likely, released. If that's the case, then the Packers are going to be on the market for an inside linebacker. Would the selection of Te'o mean drafting the best player available while also filling a need on defense?
In short, probably not. Hawk was selected fifth in the 2006 draft but has not come even close to realizing the potential that normally comes with such a high draft pick. He's been serviceable but he isn't the difference maker on defense many thought he would be. Instead, that turned out to be Matthews who was drafted in the first round in 2009.
The big question Thompson needs to answer if he's considering Te'o is how much of an upgrade he would be from Hawk. There are some similarities yet also some differences in their styles of play. Te'o, like Hawk, has a high football IQ and is able to quickly diagnose plays and attack accordingly. He's a solid open-field tackler and can get to the edge consistently. Te'o is also instinctive in coverage.
Though he had a great career in college, there seems to be a lot of "yeah, but..." when looking at Te'o's prospective NFL career.While Te'o make excel at getting to the edge, the big question is whether he is fast enough to get there before some of the NFL's best running backs. With Adrian Peterson and Matt Forte in the division, this likely will weigh heavily into Thompson's decision.
The same goes for his performance in coverage. He played well in that role in college but again there are doubts on whether or not he's ready to go against the best pass-catchers in the NFL. Can the game slow down enough for Te'o? That remains to be seen.
Te'o's performance in the biggest game of his career in the BCS title game also raises questions on whether or not he is ready for prime time. Elite players perform at elite levels in big games and Te'o definitely did not against Alabama.
All things considered, Thompson would be wise to consider Te'o but should steer clear of him in the end. He would be a big and splashy pick that always makes some fans happy, but he wouldn't be that much of an upgrade over Hawk but would just rather make the Packers younger at the position.
Then again, a selection of Te'o should not be a surprise either (I have put him going to the Packers in a few of my own mock drafts). If Thompson thinks he would benefit the Packers, then he will select him. Te'o has a higher ceiling than Hawk did and is a much more fiery leader. If Te'o can develop then he could become one of the better linebackers in the league.
Will Thompson roll the dice? No idea. No one knows except Thompson himself. Should he? No.
There is no such thing as a "sure thing" in the NFL draft. Any player selected from first overall down can flame out.
With the Packers approaching a sort of crossroads in the Thompson/McCarthy regime, the Packers need to minimize risk in the draft as much as possible and that means passing on Manti Te'o.