Needs more strength to defend the run effectively in the NFL
Getting off blocks
Man coverage against tight ends, running backs
Summary: The superstar Te'o is one of the most visible and debated prospects in the 2013 NFL Draft class. Lost in it all has been that he was a productive 3-year starter for the Fighting Irish and improved as a player in each season.
Te'o had a strong debut for the Irish in 2010, recording 133 tackles with 9.5 tackles for a loss, one sack and one forced fumble. He totaled 128 tackles with 13.5 tackles for a loss and five sacks in 2011. The junior led Notre Dame in sacks and tackles.
Te'o dropped weight for his senior season - going from the 250s to the 240s - to improve his ability to play in pass coverage. It paid off as he had a number of great games to lead Notre Dame's superb defense. Te'o stood out with huge days against Michigan, Michigan State, USC and Oklahoma. It ended on a sour note against Alabama, but he still finished tied for second in the nation with seven interceptions. Many of Te'o's picks came when he used his intelligence to be in the right place at the right time. The senior amassed 113 tackles, 5.5 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks and four passes broken up.
Following bowl season, itwas exposed that Te'o's deceased girlfriend never existed. He denied any complicity in the catfish hoax. Te'o interviewed well with teams at the Combine, but he ran a disappointingly slow 40-yard dash (4.82 seconds).
As a player, Te'o was a better run-defender as a sophomore and junior. He was more stout and physical. Te'o's reduced weight in 2012 hurt his ability to shed blocks. Alabama's offensive line really had success against him especially guard Chance Warmack. The Crimson Tide rode Te'o around the field and he had some missed tackles. Te'o needs to find a happy medium with enough weight to fight off blockers without losing speed and agility to succeed in the NFL.
Te'o was superb in zone coverage as a senior. He really was excellent at reading the offense and putting himself in position to make plays on the ball. The speed concerns hurt Te'o in his ability to cover tight ends and receiving backs. He would be better utilitzed in a defense that calls on the middle linebacker to play more zone than man.
The off-the-field issues are still a problem for Te'o, even though many pundits are saying that the catfish story is a non-issue. Sources with one team that has a need at middle linebacker told WalterFootball.com their team would pass on Te'o because the franchise is particular about who it brings into the locker room and doesn't want the circus that comes with Te'o.
Over his career, Te'o was a well-rounded player and he should turn into a solid starter in the NFL. Te'o looks like a late first-round or early second-round pick.
Player Comparison: James Laurinaitis. Te'o is very similar to Laurinaitis coming out of college. Both linebackers had productive careers but entered the NFL with speed concerns. Laurinaitis has turned into a quality middle linebacker for the Rams. He is a good run-defender and is capable of making plays in the passing game. Laurinaitis (6-2, 247) wins with instincts and intelligence. Te'o is a similar size and could turn into a linebacker in the mold of Laurinaitis. The Ohio State product slipped to the second round and that seems very possible for Te'o.
NFL Matches: Chicago, Cincinnati, Houston, Baltimore, San Diego, St. Louis
There are a number teams in the latter half of the first round and early in the second round that could be fits for Te'o. The earliest he would probably go is to the Bears with the 20th-overall pick. Chicago needs a long-term replacement for Brian Urlacher and Te'o would be a good fit in Mel Tucker's Cover 2 defense. However that seems high for Te'o and the Bears would prefer to land him in the second round.
The Bengals could use an upgrade over Rey Maualuga and Te'o would be a good scheme fit for Mike Zimmer. Cincinnati could consider with Te'o its high second-round pick, formerly Oakland's. Houston needs a middle linebacker to go next to Brian Cushing.
The Super Bowl Champion Ravens have to replace Ray Lewis. While he was an all-time great, he slowed down in his last few years, and Te'o could be an upgrade for the Baltimore defense. Head coach John Harbaugh seemed to be watching Te'o intently at the Combine.
San Diego needs help at inside linebacker, and Te'o could be a good fit for the Chargers in the second round. The Rams must upgrade their outside linebacker position, and Te'o could move to strongside linebacker in their 4-3 defense.