Manti Te'o Free Fall Makes Him Instant Steal for Day 2 Team

Matt Fitzgerald@@MattFitz_geraldCorrespondent IIIApril 26, 2013

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - JANUARY 05:  Manti Te'o #5 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish speaks to the media during Media Day ahead of the Discover BCS National Championship at Sun Life Stadium on January 5, 2013 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

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:

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.

When ESPN experts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay released their initial mock drafts (subscription required), Te'o was the No. 8 overall selection in Kiper's and No. 11 for McShay.

Granted, those evaluations were done very early on and before the infamous hoax involving Te'o and his lackluster showing at the NFL Scouting Combine.

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).

Just ahead of yesterday's first round, Kiper and McShay projected Te'o at No. 20 overall to the Bears—presumably to replace Brian Urlacher, the longtime heart of the Chicago defense.

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.