Putting aside the off-the-field weirdness that now accompanies Manti Te'o, he's as pro-ready as any player in the draft. The question is how high is his ceiling? He's a tackling machine, but is that worth the 17th pick in the draft?
We're going to do something no one else is doing right now; we're going to evaluate Notre Dame's Manti Te'o as a player, putting aside the bizarre situation he found himself in, and we're going to do that with no love or hate for the University of Notre Dame.
Regardless of who was living or pretending to be someone else, or the alleged bias the media have for the Golden Domers, Manti Te'o is as pro-ready a prospect as there is at the linebacker position.
In reviewing his film, a few things stand out, and those things can all be placed under the "consistency" umbrella. He isn't beaten often in coverage; that does not mean the guy in his area does not catch the ball. The guy who catches the ball in his area goes down where he catches it. He's competitive on passes thrown to his guy.
Naysayers will decry his seven interceptions last season as more of the fluke variety, as if being in the right place at the right time to catch a tipped pass is nothing more than an accident.
Statistics don't speak to a player's ability to be in that spot. One of his picks, the tipped pass against BYU, maybe shouldn't have been an interception if the tight end caught the ball. What's important as far as his pro potential was his ability to get back to the spot where the receiver was, and do enough to disrupt him into a drop.
Te'o wastes little movement in attacking the line of scrimmage, and has the craftiness of a 10-year pro in squeezing through small seams in that line. He's an imposing figure, but he plays low to the ground and doesn't miss many tackles.
Consistency, though, isn't sexy. We've seen many talented middle/inside linebacker prospects fall through no specific fault, except lacking the freakish athletic ability rival linebackers may have. None of that suggests the consistent player cannot have an outstanding career. He just doesn't have enormous upside potential.
He's solid in all phases of the game. He's probably not going to blow people away with his 40 time at the Combine, but he's going to be seen as at least as strong at the point of attack as any other middle/inside linebacker prospect.
Te'o is the rare three-down linebacker, and given the right situation, could start from Day 1. The odd thing is, in today's sub-package dominated game, Te'o lacks that one high-end skill teams are identifying more and more with defensive players. He's easily one of the most complete prospects in this year's draft, but he won't run faster than several other players. He won't be as quick as several other players. His best trait is probably his tackling skill, but as odd as it seems, teams either consider that a given for his position, or are willing to overlook it in favor of raw athletic ability.
Te'o seems like the kind of player a team will be able to plug into a middle linebacker position and not worry about that spot for at least four years. It seems like he'll be in the league for a long time, barring injury. Before Georiga LB Alec Ogletree picked up his second DUI, there was no doubt Ogletree would have been drafted ahead of Te'o, and Te'o is, right now, clearly a better football player. Te'o, though, may be pretty close to his ceiling. Ogletree didn't play a huge amount of linebacker in college (partially because of a position change, partially because he was suspended for four games). Te'o did.
The draft works kind of backward sometime, and a talented team can land the best Right Now player in the draft in the 20s. That doesn't seem like a stretch right now, and Te'o to a young, up-and-coming Vikings team at 21 makes a lot of sense.
As far as the Steelers go, Te'o would be an outstanding compliment to Lawrence Timmons, and they could let Larry Foote and Stevenson Sylvester walk and still get a noticeable upgrade at the position. The big question (just evaluating him as a football player) is whether his ceiling is higher than where he is right now.
A player like Ogletree has nowhere to go but up, whereas it seems Te'o will improve incrementally, but won't speed up, become more athletic or otherwise reach a level he hasn't already reached as a player.