Every week from now until the N.F.L. Draft in late-April, Fansided.com’s writers will unveil new and updated versions of their own 2013 N.F.L. Mock Drafts. During this period, I will write up weekly break-downs and provide analysis on each of Pittsburgh’s projected selections from the weekly installments (last week’s is here). Enough of me babbling though, let’s get to my analysis of who Josh Sanchez believes will be taken by the Steelers (pick #17 of 32 in the 1st Round) in his latest Mock Draft:
Manti Te’o, Inside Linebacker, Notre Dame
Wow. T’eo has a chance to slide in the draft because true inside linebackers tend to fall farther than they should. The Steelers are aging on defense and need to add some younger talent to the unit. What better way to add talent than to add a player will T’eo’s skill set and leadership ability.
If Te’o falls to #17 and the Steelers are not smitten with any Safeties or Pass Rushers on the board, then I will jump for joy if the Notre Dame Linebacker’s name is on the card delivered to the podium. I’ve been over Pittsburgh’s Inside Linebacker issues so many times over the last two years it’s become tiresome at this. If you would like to read my full thoughts on why the position needs an upgrade follow these two links: here and here. But the long and short of it is that the Steelers are in desperate need of depth and a future starter at one if not both of their Inside Linebacker positions.
Why do I like Te’o so much? Well, the 2012 Heisman Trophy runner-up capped off his amazing collegiate career and established himself as the clear-cut “#1 ILB” in this year’s Draft Class. A 4-year starter with the Fighting Irish (50 Games, 48 Starts so far), Te’o was a force in the middle of Notre Dame’s Defense throughout his time there. The 6’2″ 255 lb. Linebacker likely would have been a mid-1st Round pick had he declared last year after he registered 128 Tackles, 13.5 TFL’s, and 5.0 Sacks.
But as we all know, Te’o stayed in South Bend this season and had another monster year. Through his first 12 games, Manti has already put up an impressive stat line of 103 Tackles, 5.5 TFL’s, 1.5 Sacks, and 2 Fumble Recoveries. As stout and effective as Te’o has been against the run for Notre Dame throughout his career, he really improved as a pass-defender this year in terms of his ability to hold his own in pass-coverage and record Takeaways. Incredibly, Te’o was able to pick off 7 Passes this season to lead arguably college football’s best Defense! For those of you playing at home, 7 is more than 3, and 3 is the number of Interceptions Pittsburgh’s CORNERBACKS’ recorded over the entirety of the 2012 season! And I do not think that I need to remind you readers how awful it was to watch some of the Steelers’ Inside Linebackers play in pass-coverage this past year as they were eaten alive between the hashes.
As an Inside Linebacker, Manti is scheme versatile (he has played in both a 4-3 & 3-4 Defense in college), he would fill an enormous hole on the roster, and has the type of talent to start as a Rookie (unfortunately I’m sure that Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau would sit him). Unfortunately, I do not agree with Sanchez on the subject of Te’o somehow tumbling down to #17. Furthermore, Sanchez’s idea that “true inside linebackers tend to fall farther than they should.” is not necessarily true either.
Why Te’o Will Not Fall
The biggest reason why I believe that Te’o will not slide to the Steelers all the way down at #17 has to do with the teams selecting ahead (and some behind) of Pittsburgh in need of Inside Linebackers, and the overall Quarterback Class as a whole. Don’t follow me? Let me explain:
When I look at the first 16 selections of the 1st Round Draft of April’s Draft, I see multiple teams who could Linebacker-help/upgrades, specifically at the Inside and Middle positions. The Lions (#5 overall pick) could be a solid landing-spot for Te’o as their Defense needs upgrades all over their back-7. Cleveland (#6) could definitely be a landing spot for Te’o as Scott Fujita is nearing or at the end of his career. Outside of the Top 10, if there is an Offensive Lineman run before the Chargers pick (#11), I could see San Diego going after Te’o to replace the veteran Takeo Spikes. Like Detroit, Cleveland, and San Diego, Buffalo (#8) and the New York Jets (#9) could all use boosts’ to their Linebacking Corps’ and Defenses’ overall, and could be willing to take Te’o if he fell to them.
As it stands, 2013’s Quarterback Class appears to be a “Top-Weak” (Geno Smith, Matt Barkley, Tyler Wilson) yet “Middle-Round-Heavy” (Ryan Nassib, Mike Glennon, E.J. Manuel, Landry Jones, Zac Dysert) one. Thus, teams in front of Pittsburgh might feel compelled to select the top player on their board in Round 1 (i.e. Te’o) and fill their signal-caller needs later. You know, similar to what both Cincinnati and San Francisco did in the 2011 Draft (A.J. Green (Round 1) & Andy Dalton (Round 2), Aldon Smith (Round 1) & Colin Kaepernick (Round 2)).
While the teams in front of Pittsburgh who could have their sights’ set on Te’o temper my hopes on him sliding to the Steelers, it’s the “ILB-needy” teams behind the Steelers who could trade up in front of them to select him. Remember when the Jets traded up to take Darrelle Revis one selection ahead of Pittsburgh back in 2007? Well, behind Pittsburgh lies Chicago (#20), Baltimore, Indianapolis, Houston, and Green Bay. Each of these teams are either thin, or aging, or some combination of both at Inside Linebacker. The way I see it, if for some reason Te’o slides past San Diego, teams selecting at #12-#15 will likely be receiving plenty of calls from these teams behind Pittsburgh for a potential if they are sold on the Fighting Irish Linebacker.
I hate to say it as well, but Sanchez’s assertion that Inside Linebackers tend to slide in the Draft is a bit off-base too. While an Inside Linebacker is definitely not as much of a “hot commodity” as say a Quarterback, if a player is talented at the position they will be selected. For example, over the last 15 Drafts, 11 Inside Linebackers have been selected in the Top 15. Here’s a short break-down:
‘98, Keith Brooking (#12), Takeo Spikes (#13)
‘99, Chris Claiborne (#9)
‘00, Brian Urlacher (#9)
‘01, Dan Morgan (#15)
‘04, Jonathan Vilma (#12)
‘07, Patrick Willis (#11), Lawrence Timmons (OLB at Florida State, ILB with Steelers) (#15)
‘08, Jerod Mayo (#10)
‘09, Brian Cushing (#15)
‘10, Rolando McClain (#8)
‘12, Luke Kuechly (#8)
At least to me, Te’o is on the same-level, if not an even better prospect than all of these guys coming out of college save for Urlacher. While the Draft Class depth has never been necessarily strong for Inside Linebacker position, if a prospect is indeed worthy of a high-selection, they will not slide far, if at all. If teams in front of Pittsburgh are unwilling to take Te’o and he falls all the way to #17 without any other team swooping in and trading up, then I will be ecstatic. Sadly, I just do not see it happening, and if recent history is any indication, an “ILB-needy” team before #17 will take him.
The Steelers need help at Inside Linebacker, and they need it sooner as opposed to later. As much as I would love to see the Steelers select Te’o, I just do not believe it will happen. Luckily for G.M. Kevin Colbert, there are some other terrific Inside Linebackers in the year’s Draft Class. Kevin Minter of Louisiana State and Alec Ogletree of Georgia are two athletic underclassmen who could be 1st Round talents. In addition to Minter and Ogletree, players like Shane Skov of Stanford and Khaseem Greene of Rutgers could be had on Day 2, while Arthur Brown of Kansas State and Nico Johnson of Alabamacould be a couple of solid Day 3 selections.
I earnestly hope that Te’o falls all the way to #17, but if he does not, I am sure the Steelers will look elsewhere to help to fill their gaping hole at Inside Linebacker in April’s Draft.
Readers: Should the Steelers go after an ILB in Round 1? Or should they look elsewhere? Would you be excited if Te’o fell to them at #17? Let me know.