Believe it or not, the Atlanta Falcons might have a shot at picking linebacker Manti Te’o at No. 30 with their first-round draft pick. The Falcons should pass and not even think twice.
Back in December when the Notre Dame Fighting Irish were preparing for the BCS Championship Game against the Alabama Crimson Tide, no one expected Te’o to be in the conversation for the Falcons so late in the first round. This was before the fake girlfriend hoax came to light and a tumultuous two months brought Te’o’s name to the forefront for all the wrong reasons.
Te’o was at the top of the world after his senior season and took home trophies like the Bednarik Award, the Walter Camp and the Maxwell Award to name a few. But after a poor showing in the title game and questions of his character arose, Te’o’s stock began to tank.
Monday at the NFL Scouting Combine, Te’o ran a sluggish 4.82 40-yard dash and watched his draft stock plummet further. ESPN college football analyst warned NFL general managers that picking Te’o early could be costly, and then offered his opinion on where Te’o should be chosen.
Falcons’ general manager Thomas Dimitroff is in no danger of being canned no matter what he does on draft day in April. But when it comes taking risks on the first day of the draft—even though Dimitroff rolled the dice two years ago when he traded up to get Julio Jones—often it’s minimizing risk that’s the right option.
Here are three reasons Dimitroff and the Falcons should stay away from Te’o in the first round.
Te’o Might Not Be an Every-Down Linebacker
Less than a year ago, the Falcons waved goodbye to the best tackler on their team Curtis Lofton because they felt he was not an every-down linebacker. Because Te’o snailed his way to a 4.82 in the 40, the question about whether he can play all three downs is one that has to be asked.
Lofton was able to produce at levels that were light years ahead of where Te’o is going to be. Sure the price tag for Te’o will be cheaper, but why would the Falcons use their first-round pick on Te’o when they know a two-down linebacker in Mike Nolan’s system isn’t a high priority on this team? If you need proof of that, just ask Akeem Dent.
His Work Ethic Has to Come into Question
Even though there is a ton of game film that shows Te’o is a beast of a linebacker, two benchmark tests where he utterly underperformed must call into question his preparation methods.
Te’o had 44 days between Notre Dame’s 22-13 win over Southern California on Nov. 24 and the BCS National Championship on Jan. 7. After setting the college football world ablaze with his play to drive the Fighting Irish to a 12-0 record, Te’o stumbled through the Alabama game.
No one with that much time to prepare should have such a nuclear meltdown as Te’o had, no matter what’s happening off the field. Te’o looked overmatched against Alabama’s blockers and ball carriers, some of which will be playing on Sunday at the next level. Is this what the Falcons can expect when Te’o faces top-notch talent?
Te’o then had 49 days between the game against Alabama and the NFL combine. In 49 days Te’o should have found a way to post better numbers than he did in Indianapolis.
Whether it’s preparation or falling flat in huge moments, when Te’o came up against two of the biggest challenges of his football career, he fell short.
Falcons Need a Different Kind of Help at Linebacker
It’s very true that the Falcons need to add depth at linebacker, but not the kind of help Te’o brings to the table.
Te’o is an aggressive tackler with a nose for getting to the ball carrier, which all sounds good for an Atlanta defense that had trouble against the run. But the Falcons really need the kind of linebacker that can help in coverage and as a pass-rushing behemoth.
His poor 40-yard dash time foreshadows future coverage woes for Te’o in the NFL. Yes, at Notre Dame Te’o seemed on top of coverage tasks, but the NFL is played at a much faster level and Atlanta was destroyed at times in 2012 by tight ends and receivers in the middle of the field. Can Te’o solve that problem?
Te’o actually fell down during a pass-rush drill at the combine. While one spill isn’t a draft killer, add that to his inability to shed blocks against Alabama and the Falcons must wonder if Te’o could move outside on passing downs and get to the quarterback, and more importantly past an offensive tackle.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.