USC v Notre Dame

Manti Te’o Scouting Report

Well, what can you say about Manti that hasn’t already been said? Especially in the last few days. I mean seriously, what am I doing right now? What can I possibly add to this? In light of the recent news about the girlfriend hoax, he’ll be a hot topic no matter what happens from now until the NFL draft. For those that haven’t heard the word hoax mentioned in the same sentence as Manti Te’o, in times like these… google and “Deadspin” are your friends.

So now what happens to him? Can a bonafide first round talent suffer a 1st day freefall because of a scandal like this? Will teams judge him by the character that is being portrayed in the media or will they judge him for the player he was on the field? My money is on the latter. I mean, nobody likes a fibber but what we don’t really know (yet) is the underlying reason why he did it. We see this happen all the time and seemingly at a higher frequency since the interwebz and the twitter universe took over planet earth. Secrets are never safe and the information age that we live in is the ultimate equalizer for skeletons in the closet.

But one thing that never gets completely overlooked is talent. NFL teams likely won’t even consider drafting him as a risk in any way, shape, or form. Well, a small market team that is trying to sell tickets might but the established teams take advantage of situations like this. The Pats do it all the time… getting great players at a discount. Could he fall out of the top 10? Sure. Out of the 1st round? It’s possible, but I doubt it.

Linebackers like Manti Te’o just don’t come around every year. After finishing second in the Heisman voting and wrapping up his college career as the recipient of several other awards that top LB prospects and game changing players are typically given, he deserves to be drafted in the 1st round. Which means he’s worth a look in the 2nd round of rookie drafts and maybe even in the late first in some leagues. And that’s the main reason why I’m kicking things off with him in this series.

I’ll get to the scouting report in just a second but let me say this: From what I know, or should I say, from what I’ve learned over the years… Hawaiians are a very proud people. But Hawaiians with Samoan blood lines are at another level. (Shout out to Dog the Bounty Hunter!) Nobody wants to bring shame to their family on the island, especially Hawaiians with Samoan family ties. And the last thing that opposing NFL teams want to see is an angry Samoan with a chip on his shoulder. Don’t be surprised if he turns this whole thing into a lifelong quest to dominate on the field and completely erase this moment in time where his light isn’t shining so brightly. I’ve seen posts from people claiming they wouldn’t want their team to draft him because of this. Or that perhaps his intangibles and character are suddenly a hoax too. Well, I don’t think all 32 NFL teams will feel the same way and someone is gonna get one helluva player. On to the report.

Tale of the Tape/Position – 6’2″, 255 lbs, ILB/MLB, Notre Dame

Athleticism – Manti is the prototypical MLB and quarterback of the defense. He’s got the ideal frame for a linebacker and possesses above average strength. Whether he sheds a few pounds or bulks up a little bit, his body can handle it. He’ll probably stay in the 245-260 lb range for the rest of his career though. You often hear about “farm boy” strength or guys who are “country strong”, and then there are guys with Samoan strength. And in my opinion, that’s a step above the others. You can’t measure things like heart and tenacity, but this guy has it. He may not be the fastest LB in the draft, but he can make plays all over the field and does a great job of getting to the sidelines and chasing down runs and screens. In a perfect world, he’ll end up in a 4-3 defense but if he doesn’t he’ll still be a valuable fantasy LB in a 3-4.  Some people are athletes, and some are football players.  Manti is both but mostly, a football player.

Instincts/Intelligence – As much as size matters (insert “that’s what she said” joke here), having great instincts might be of equal importance for an ILB/MLB. Being able to diagnose the play and put yourself in position to make the play can make up for deficiencies in other areas. Not that Manti has any glaring weaknesses but when a defensive player can combine above average strength and smarts, he can be lethal. Ray Lewis has made a HOF career out of it. Obviously a rookie will have things to learn at the next level, but it shouldn’t take him long to adjust because of his great work ethic. He’ll put the time in. I feel pretty confident when I say that.

Run Defense – His strength is a huge asset against the run. He can hit a gap and shed blocks to make a play very well. He also uses his instincts to chase down runners and does a great job of wrapping up as a tackler. He’s a technician and a reliable tackler who rarely misses. There’s nothing more frustrating than a defender who is trying to make the “big hit”.  Using the shoulder instead of your arms to tackle is a mistake.  But Manti uses his great upper body strength against blockers and then against the runner and imposes his will.  This is what NFL teams are looking for.  And so should we as fantasy owners.

Coverage/Pass defense – This is an area where he improved in his senior season. A linebacker doesn’t end up with 7 interceptions if they are a liability in coverage. You don’t go from zero to seven in this category by luck or fluke. He’s got great instincts and puts himself in position to make plays. He’ll also be a 3 down linebacker in the NFL which is paramount in the IDP world. Whether he stays in on all 3 downs right out of the gate will depend on who drafts him but chances are that anyone who takes him in the first round (hello Buffalo!) will need him out there. He’s not the smoothest or fastest in coverage, but that’s where his instincts kick in and allows him to excel.

Pass Rush/Blitzing – He wasn’t really used to blitz and rush the QB at Notre Dame but with his great upper body strength, instincts and timing I’m sure that he could be effective in this area. Again, this will depend on who drafts him and what style of defense they run but in the right situation with the right defensive coordinator I’m confident that this is a skill that Manti will grow into.

Intangibles/Character – This is the area that the media and bloggers will probably focus on for the next little while. But if it doesn’t blow over, that might be a good thing. As I mentioned in the beginning, this is the kind of thing that can fuel a player for years. Especially if he drops out of the top half of the first round of the draft. I don’t see how this type of thing can completely erase someone’s credibility and football production for life. He was always known to be a great teammate and competitor… and that’s what really matters. It’s not like he was busted for drugs or DUI’s. And we’ve seen many players overcome those red flags in recent years. This type of red flag pales in comparison to some of the others that college players come in with.  Without knowing a guy personally, I think he’s too proud to let this bring him down. It’s a non-issue for me. He’ll be the leader of the defense for many years wherever he goes. He’s the type of guy that should play his entire career with the same team and those are the guys that go on to Pro Bowls and the HOF.  And of course, those are the guys that us fantasy players want on our teams.  A change of scenery is good for some, but in IDP…  it’s rarely a good thing if they move around too much.

Comparison – I can’t help but think of the late great Junior Seau when I think of Manti Te’o. There’s a lot of similarities there. For more current day LB’s, I’ll even go with Ray Lewis or Brain Urlacher. I’m not saying that he’s guaranteed to be as successful or productive, but I’d be willing to put money on it rather than bet against him.

Questions or comments are always welcome!