Notre Dame senior linebacker Manti Te'o had the game of his life on Saturday night against Michigan. Te'o recorded eight tackles and a career-high two interceptions to help the Irish knock off the Wolverines.
It was obviously an impressive showing, but what does this performance mean for his NFL draft stock?
Te'o has been a standout for four years in South Bend, but it was this game that solidified his status as a first-round prospect.
One of Te'o's weaknesses in recent years had been his ability to quickly diagnose the offensive play. While some analysts may refer to this as "instinct," it's really nothing more than an ability to read the offense and quickly react to the action—both in terms of the type (pass or run) and direction.
In previous years, Te'o had a reckless approach to diagnosing the play. He would react quickly, but would over-commit. For example, he'd see the offense setting up for a run to left and go all-out to get to the running back...only to be out of position when the quarterback faked the handoff and rolled right.
Against Michigan, however, Te'o displayed just how far he's come in terms of his patience on the field.
The perfect example came on Te'o's second interception (starts at the 30 second mark of the video). Watch as Te'o initially breaks to his right as he sees Michigan setting up for a sweep to the left side of the line.
But Te'o doesn't fully commit upon Denard Robinson's first movement. Instead, he holds back and keeps his eye on the quarterback and is able to immediately react once Robinson fakes the handoff and drops back to pass.
While Te'o doesn't get into position to make a play on the ball immediately, his recognition skills allow for the interception to happen. If Te'o over-commits to the fake sweep, Robinson's pass gets tipped and falls incomplete.
Not only does this improvement by Te'o demonstrate his ability to help an NFL defense on the field, but it also shows the work he's put in off the field.
Some teams will view a player who has shown improvement over the course of his career—such as Te'o—in much higher regard than a prospect with elite ability but limited development over the course of his college career.
Te'o's combination of on-field skills plus his hard work and development off it should make him a first-round prospect on most teams' draft boards.
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