Manti Te'o was once considered a potential top-10 pick. While his stock faded throughout the draft process, it was still a surprise to see him fall out of the first round completely. The Notre Dame superstar now has even more reason to prove the doubters wrong.
An All-American linebacker who finished second in voting for the Heisman Trophy is normally a coveted prospect. That wasn't the case for Te'o. A poor performance in the national title game against Alabama paired with lackluster workouts leading up to the draft hurt his status.
Nobody was sure exactly how much until Thursday night. As the picks went by, including those by teams in need of a middle linebacker, it became clear waiting until Day 2 was a realistic possibility.
The Minnesota Vikings, who had three picks in the opening round and need an upgrade on the inside, passed on him each time they were up. The Baltimore Ravens are searching for Ray Lewis' replacement, but opted against Te'o to close out the opening round.
After 32 selections, Te'o is still on the board. It's a disappointing outcome for a player who accomplished so much during his collegiate career. Ultimately, the slide should simply add more fuel to his internal fire. More motivation to show his play at Notre Dame was no fluke.
He racked up more than 110 total tackles in each of his final three seasons with the Fighting Irish. He also generated 34 tackles for loss, eight and a half sacks and seven interceptions, all as a senior, as a four-year contributor. Those are very solid numbers across the board.
|Year||Total Tackles||Tackles for Loss||Sacks||Interceptions||Passes Defended||Forced Fumbles|
More importantly, Te'o was the driving force behind a defense that often carried the Irish during their run to the title game. When they needed a big play, he provided it. His leadership helped the team survive two overtime games along the way, as well.
One bad game shouldn't overshadow everything he accomplished. Every player that steps foot on the field has an off performance now and then, Te'o just happened to have one on the biggest college football stage of them all.
Alabama was a dominant force that rolled through a lot of opponents last year courtesy of its plentiful NFL talent. Against any other team, the endless questions would have been warranted. But Te'o had an off night and the Crimson Tide took advantage to win a title, so the story was overblown.
A player should always be evaluated based on his entire body of work, not just one game. Te'o had a very strong collegiate career before the lackluster finish.
As for the workouts, his middling results shouldn't have been a major surprise. He's always come off as a better football player than pure athlete. He doesn't run the fastest or jump the highest, but that hasn't stopped him from making plays.
Yet, he fell out of the first round anyway and there's nothing he can do about it now besides use the latest setback as motivation. Whatever team takes him on Day 2––he's seemingly a virtual lock to go barring unreported information––is going to get a fired-up middle linebacker.
If Te'o is looking for a source of that motivation, he doesn't need to look any further than Aaron Rodgers. The Green Bay Packers star endured a slide during the draft, but recently signed a contract extension worth $110 million over five years (via Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel).
It shows that players can rebound from draft disappointment to have a terrific NFL career.
Te'o is prepared to make an impact right away, especially on the early downs. He's got all the tools to become a good run stopper at the next level. His coverage skills are a work in progress, but he should improve quickly with coaching and experience at the next level.
All told, it's still unknown where Te'o will land. Wherever it is, he's going to arrive with a chip on his shoulder and a multitude of motivating factors pushing him to succeed.
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