Manti Te'o: Teams That Desperately Need to Target Former Notre Dame Star
Baltimore isn't the only team in desperate need of an inside linebacker, either.
The former Notre Dame star will play at a high level as a rookie. Though he's not as fast as some of the other top inside linebackers that have come out in recent years, Te'o possesses excellent instincts, good athleticism and is skilled at reading the field.
He developed into a top-notch coverage linebacker in his final year at Notre Dame, tallying seven interceptions—the second-highest total of any player in college football last year.
Te'o's recent PR disaster (the Catfish scandal) may be a bit of a turnoff for some teams. That said, the fact remains that he's a talented player who is ready to step in and contribute in a positive way for the team that drafts him (even if his teammates make him the butt of their jokes for a while).
These teams must target Te'o in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft.
If you watched Te'o perform at the combine, you're probably aware of John Harbaugh's reaction to his poor 40 time. If you haven't seen the clip, check it out here for a good chuckle.
Te'o improved his time at his pro day, running an official 4.69-second 40, and since the combine, the Ravens' linebacking corps became even more depleted after Ellerbe left to sign with the Miami Dolphins.
Ozzie Newsome made a move in free agency to fill the void, signing Rolando McClain to a one-year contract. Unfortunately, McClain promptly got himself arrested in his home town (again), and the team is now waiting for "due process" to make any further decisions on his future (h/t Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun).
The Ravens need an inside linebacker in the worst way. Te'o isn't particularly strong when he has to take on blockers in order to get to ball-carriers, but he is excellent in pursuit.
The Ravens feature a beefy front line that is adept at keeping blockers occupied. Lewis was always at his best as a chaser—just like Te'o—and the team's scheme would be a perfect fit for the former Golden Domer.
Unfortunately, Te'o will likely be long gone before Baltimore picks, as there are a couple of other teams ahead of the Ravens in the draft order in need of his services.
The Vikings haven't re-signed E.J. Henderson, their starting inside linebacker last year. This team doesn't currently have a single starting-caliber inside linebacker on its roster, and it will be shocking if general manager Rick Spielman doesn't address this need at some point in the draft.
CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora recently wrote: "The Bears and Vikings spent a lot of time with him and came away impressed."
The Bears signed D.J. Williams and have indicated that he'll be the starting inside linebacker in 2013 (h/t Adam L. Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times), so it seems unlikely Chicago will draft Te'o in Round 1.
According to Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com, Spielman has visited with Te'o multiple times, and history shows the general manager is fond of Notre Dame alumni.
Adding Te'o to this young, burgeoning team would be a smart move. He'd get to play with his old teammate Harrison Smith, and with Kevin Williams moving bodies up front, Te'o would be able to run to the ball.
As was mentioned earlier, Williams—the starting inside linebacker for the Broncos last year—signed a one-year deal with the Bears.
At this time, Joe Mays is pencilled in as the team's starter, but he's a liability in coverage and isn't a dominant run defender. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) ranked Mays as its No. 29 inside linebacker last year, giving him a rating of negative 2.2.
Which team would be the best fit for Te'o?
It's obvious the Broncos need to draft an inside linebacker who can step in right away and start from the opening day of training camp.
Te'o would fit in with Denver's current roster beautifully. Von Miller and Wesley Woodyard are both excellent, speedy outside linebackers who fly to the ball.
If the Vikings let Te'o slide, Denver shouldn't let him fall any further. He'd be a plug-and-play starter and a nice upgrade to a Broncos defense that is fast becoming one of the most dominant units in the NFL.
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