Considering this is the first of the Steelers Scouting Report series I plan on running, I'll just give you all a little rundown as to what I plan to do here.
Twice a week, every week until the draft, I'd like to bring you guys a comprehensive scouting report on some players the Steelers could be selecting or at least looking at come April. We're not talking just first-round picks either, but players ranging from any round who Pittsburgh's front office could be interested in.
So, let's get started, and enjoy!
Name: Manti Te'o
School: Notre Dame
Weight: 255 lbs
Draft Projection: Early-Mid First Round
NFL Comparison: James Farrior
And we'll open up the Steelers Scoutbook series with possibly the hottest name in NFL Draft circles, Notre Dame inside linebacker Manti Te'o.
Te'o is on fire right now and deservedly so. He's done something with a Notre Dame defense that a lot of guys who came before him have not—made them into winners. Te'o has a big, thick frame and his scheme versatility lends itself to the needs of the Steelers. He also brings valuable leadership to the table, something the Steelers struggled with defensively this season.
At Notre Dame, Te'o has already learned the base 3-4 defense that Pittsburgh employs. In that defense this season, Te'o has had double-digit tackles in six games. He's got 1.5 sacks on the season but has had an astounding seven interceptions from his inside linebacker position.
Te'o will certainly be on the Steelers' radar this offseason. They took a hard look at Alabama linebacker Dont'a Hightower before last year's draft and, had David DeCastro not been on the board, they most likely would have taken him.
Let's dig a little deeper and break down some more of Te'o's game.
- Exceptionally strong upper body with great explosion to drive through blockers
- Looks the part of an NFL inside linebacker; has the frame to play in any and all defenses
- Great lateral movement skills
- Phenomenal instincts for a player his age; Leadership skills are off the charts
- Disciplined against the run and has developed great instincts in the pass game over the last season
- Great character, high football IQ
- Straight-line speed isn't up to par with guys like Kuechly. Will most likely run around a 4.7 which could hurt his stock
- Won't run with receivers or super-athletic tight ends; looked stiff at times
Against the Run
- One of the best tackle-to-tackle linebackers you're going to see; makes all kinds of plays inside the box
- Downhill player who uses his strength to shed blocks at a high level
- Disciplined in his gap assignments
- Strong, wrap-up tackler who drives through and finishes plays
- Uses his hands as well as any linebacker in college football to shed blocks
- Has a tendency to over-pursue on some outside plays; susceptible to cutbacks
- Occasionally, relies too heavily on instincts
Against the Pass
- Great instincts, especially in zone coverage
- Shown great development in Senior season; 7 INT's this season, 0 previous 3 seasons
- Exceptional range for his size; can play every down in the NFL
- Ball skills have been fantastic in 2012
- Will struggle in man coverage against quick backs or athletic tight ends
- Isn't fluid enough to keep up with sharp, breaking routes
- Physically gifted enough to get to the quarterback
- Smart player with great timing and instincts
- Was not really used much in pass-rushing situations
- Only recorded 1.5 sacks during the 2012 season; still needs to develop
According to B/R NFL Draft Lead Writer Sigmund Bloom, Te'o is currently rated as the No. 8 overall player on his big board, well before the Steelers pick 17th overall in April's draft.
But Te'o doesn't play an elite position. Therefore, he'll most likely tend to drop in the draft. He's also a different kind of linebacker than Boston College's Luke Kuechly who was selected No. 8 by the Panthers in last season's draft. Te'o is a bit thicker and a better downhill player, where as Kuechly is more a finesse linebacker.
That makes Te'o a much better fit for the Steelers' style of defense.
Both Pittsburgh inside linebackers Larry Foote and Lawrence Timmons had great seasons in 2012, but Foote is a free agent at the end of the season and is on the wrong side of 30.
My comparison to former Steelers and Jets middle linebacker James Farrior might not blow you away, but hear me out. Farrior had an excellent 15-year NFL career in which he compiled over 1,400 total tackles and 35.5 sacks. The former No. 8 overall selection in the 1997 Draft was the clear-cut leader of the Steelers defense in the 10 years he spent with the team. He also made two Pro Bowls in his time in Pittsburgh.
Te'o is a better athlete than Farrior and has a much higher ceiling, but the two play a very similar game. NFL.com's Bucky Brooks recently compared him to 49ers Pro Bowl linebacker NaVorro Bowman.
The Steelers had been set to take a chance on Hightower last season and, although Te'o's not as good a pass rusher, he's a better overall linebacker in the NFL. Te'o has the leadership skills and talent to make an immediate impact on the Steelers defense. He's a great fit for the scheme and, although inside linebacker may not be the team's most pressing need, they can't afford to pass up on a talent like this.
Te'o can build on his draft stock on January 7th when his Fighting Irish take on the defending National Champion Alabama Crimson Tide. With a great performance there, Te'o could vault his stock into the top 10 and out of Pittsburgh's reach.