Notre Dame Football: Will Manti Te'o Enter the 2012 NFL Draft?

Jeff MerrittCorrespondent IJuly 21, 2011

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 11: Manti Te'o #5 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish awaits the start of play against the Michigan Wolverines at Notre Dame Stadium on September 11, 2010 in South Bend, Indiana. Michigan defeated Notre Dame 28-24. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

With a strong finish to last year’s college football season, expectations are very high for the University of Notre Dame football team in 2011. There are a number of returning players who are projected to have good, if not great, seasons which fuels these high expectations. One player who is expected to have an outstanding season is Manti Te’o.    

As the undisputed leader of a much improved defense, Te’o finds himself on four pre-season watch lists: the Bednarik Award, given to the outstanding defensive player of the year, the Butkus Award, given to the top linebacker in college football, the Lombardi Award, awarded to the top lineman or linebacker in college football, and the Bronco Nagurski Award for the defensive player judged to be the best in the nation.

Te’o also finds himself on a number of mock draft boards.  Most draft analysts see Te’o as
one of the top five linebacker prospects currently in college football along with Vontaze Burfict of Arizona State, Don’ta Hightower of Alabama, Luke Kuechly of Boston College and Tank Carder from Texas Christian.  Despite the fact that many consider Vontaze Burfict to be the best of the group, the consensus among those in the know seems to be that if Te’o enters the draft, he will be taken in the first round. 

 The million dollar question is “Will Manti Te’o apply for the NFL draft at season’s end?” From the outside looking in it seems likely that Te’o will enter the draft as long as he puts up similar numbers to last year and stays injury free.  However, those in Notre Dame’s inner circle may disagree.  

Although Te’o has established himself as one of the most dynamic defensive players in recent Notre Dame history, he has not established himself as one of the all-time greats. In 2010, he finished with a team high 133 tackles.  As impressive as this total might appear, this left him just outside of the Notre Dame top ten in terms of tackles in a single season.  In addition to this, even though the program appears to be trending upward, it has not yet reclaimed its position as one of the premier programs in the country. 

With some unfinished business left to attend to, Te’o returning for a fourth season does seem to be a very likely scenario.  With two years ahead of him, Te’o can cement his place in Notre Dame football lore, Te’o can be a part of the team’s return to relevance, Te’o can fulfill his commitment to his parents to get his degree, and Te’o can fulfill his commitment to his coaches, and teammates by giving 4 years to the University of Notre Dame football program.   

If Te’o chooses to stay for a fourth year the outlook for the Irish in Coach Kelly’s third season would seem to be very bright. Having fulfilled his commitments to the all involved,  Te'o may find himself on a Notre Dame team that has returned to national prominence, and the BCS bowl series.