Widely considered a surefire first-round pick, former Notre Dame All-American linebacker Manti Te'o has yet to have his named called in the 2013 NFL draft.
The free fall Te'o has experienced thus far despite his immense talent and football IQ makes him a massive steal for whichever team chooses him on Friday.
It's highly unlikely that Te'o falls past the second round, and he represents wonderful value at any point now in the draft even if he was the very first pick of the evening.
Te'o anchored one of the top defensive units in college football, but it appears all of that work has been overshadowed by an embarrassing loss to Alabama in the BCS National Championship game.
NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported that the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings were both strongly considering Te'o, and the Vikings were thought to possibly move ahead of their NFC North rivals to take him. That clearly never materialized, but it only improves Te'o's value.
What made Te'o stand out the most was his uncanny ability to diagnose plays and step into passing lanes to make interceptions. ESPN's Numbers Never Lie official Twitter page illustrates just how unique Te'o was in that regard as a senior in 2012 with this tweet:
His And Hers @HisAndHers
Manti Te’o had seven interceptions in 13 games last season, the most by any linebacker since 2006.4/26/2013, 6:17:12 PM
The Crimson Tide were an SEC and defending national champion buzz-saw that the Fighting Irish clearly didn't have a chance of beating in the national title clash. Notre Dame's defensive front was manhandled, and Te'o had to desperately guess on every play in an effort to turn the tide back in Notre Dame's favor.
Obviously nothing went as planned, but Te'o is far from the only player to blame for the Irish's collapse.
Having said that, their opinions weren't necessarily influenced by anything other than game tape at the time of the first mock. Te'o was a consensus first-rounder, easily inside the first half of Day 1.
Even after Te'o remedied a poor 40-yard dash time of 4.82 with a 4.71 in South Bend at his pro day, ESPN Insider reported that prominent NFL executive Bill Polian said Te'o was merely "in the mix" for Round 1 despite his prior gaudy status (subscription required).
Evaluators can do all the measurements they want to, and maybe Te'o doesn't stack up well with his peers in that regard. But what the NFL ultimately boils down to is the impact the players have between the white lines.
What Te'o does know how to do is play football and to be in the right place at the right time. Any lack of athleticism or quick-twitch movement can be made up for by Te'o's knowledge of the game.
There should be an adjustment period as there is with any rookie, but don't be surprised if Te'o morphs into an instant force as a starter in 2013.
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