The NFL Draft is a couple months away, and projections and mock drafts are flying in from all directions. Most mock drafts have the Buccaneers selecting Johnthan Banks, Xavier Rhodes, or a defensive tackle. Some, like my most recent mock draft, have the Buccaneers selecting Jarvis Jones or a pass rusher. But only a select few have come out with Manti Te’o coming to Tampa Bay.
I am sure that you have heard Manti Te’o story this offseason. If not, climb out from under your rock and go to Google his name, you’ll find out pretty quickly. The facts about the situation seem to point to Te’o being caught off guard by a hoax, and then not having the fortitude to tell everyone that he’d been duped. Personally, I don’t see what Te’o did as evil or wrong in any way, I think he was naive and got caught in a bad situation. But you don’t come here to hear about morals, and opinions on the private life of college kids.
You come here for football. At least, I assume you do. So let’s talk about football. Let’s take a few minutes and consider the pros and cons of the Fighting Irish linebacker coming to One Buc Place.
Te’o was an elite linebacker at the college level. The production and impact he had as the leader of the Notre Dame defense brought him enough Heisman votes to finish second in the final standings for the nation’s best college football player. Ponder just how amazing that is, a linebacker finishing second in Heisman voting. But it’s not unreasonable when you look at the numbers. Te’o had 7 interceptions, 11 passes defended, and 1.5 sacks to go with his 113 total tackles. That’s a huge impact on the pass defense from the inside linebacker position. Te’o was a team captain, and as I’ve previously noted, this is a huge plus in Mark Dominik’s eyes. Honestly, I think it’s impossible to overlook Dominik’s affinity for team captains, and Te’o would provide not only a team captain, but the central cog of a very successful defense. Manti is a tank, at over six feet tall and weighing over 250 pounds, but he doesn’t sacrifice speed and agility. He’s not the quickest player in the world, but he’s got an excellent combination of size and speed. Until the hoax, he was viewed as a top class human being who spent time off the field in charitable efforts.
One of the most obvious weaknesses for Te’o, hoax aside, is his performance in the National Championship Game against Alabama. He and his Notre Dame defense was exposed and embarrassed, and many fans started to bail on Te’o as a true NFL prospect. However, knowing what we know now about the hoax, it’s possible that Te’o was not in the right frame of mind for that game, and while he certainly should have done better, it’s a worthy excuse for a outlier performance. The only other weaknesses that critics could give about Te’o are his lack of elite speed, and a concern about the level of competition he faced with Notre Dame. While the SEC is clearly the king of college football, and the N.D. schedule was lacking in teams from the best conference, Te’o's Irish played USC, Oklahoma, Michigan and State, Stanford, and other ranked teams over his career. In regards to his speed, Te’o is fast enough to have his high football I.Q. lead him to the right positions.
Te’o could either compete to take over the middle linebacker position, or play the strongside position in place of the likely departing Quincy Black. He would fill a need, and in my opinion, be one of the most talented players on the board at the 13th selection. The Buccaneers brass would need to be 100% certain that Te’o was in the right state of mind to play in the NFL, and put up with the over-the-top trash talk he’s going to hear from NFL veterans trained in the art of smack talking. If they can meet with Te’o and feel confident he’s ready to take on all the challenges of being in the NFL on a personal level, they might just welcome him to the Bay along with his vast array of ability and knowledge.
Te’o is a controversial figure, to be sure. So what do you think, Bucs fans? Do you want Manti Te’o in Tampa Bay? Leave a comment below and let us know.