The New York Giants have lacked a dependable presence at the middle linebacker position since Antonio Pierce retired following the 2009 NFL season.
Though the Giants have failed to truly address the need since his departure, the 2013 NFL draft could be the perfect opportunity to find a vital missing piece in the middle of their defense. And after his subpar performance in the BCS National Championship, Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o may be available when the Giants are slotted to pick with the 19th selection of the first round.
The Heisman finalist proved to be a phenomenal leader for the Fighting Irish en route to their spectacular 2012 season. Though his play was lackluster in an embarrassing loss for the Irish against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the BCS National Championship Game, there is no reason to ignore his entire collegiate career.
Te’o is a physical player in the middle with good NFL size (6’2”, 255 pounds). He could use a lot of improvement when reading and reacting to plays, usually moving on what he sees in front of him rather than anticipating where the football is going. Despite this, Te’o is a ball hawk with a tendency to make his presence known on any given play.
Chase Blackburn and Mark Herzlich have been serviceable for the Giants at middle linebacker, but neither appears to be a long-term option for the starting role. While the second-year Herzlich still has time to develop, Blackburn has proven himself to be nothing more than a situational linebacker, a beloved leader and special teams ace.
Te’o is an instant starter in the NFL, however, with the potential to be a game-changing player from day one.
CBS Sports’ Dane Brugler cannot help but speak highly of the Hawaiian-born product:
Te’o is an intense competitor and covers a lot of ground with his rangy, active playing style and lateral agility to cover both sidelines. He trusts his eyes and attacks the action quickly, showing a high football IQ to play smart, assignment football. Te’o needs to tighten his angles in space and get stronger at the point of attack to consistently finish once he gets his hands on the ballcarrier. He is a smooth, thickly-built athlete and his ability to quickly diagnose the play is why he projects as a starter at the next level.
While many may not see Te’o as a deserving first-round prospect—in part because of the position he plays—the Giants have nothing to lose by taking him if he’s still available at No. 19.
Te’o’s leadership skills should be especially valuable to the Giants, who have missed Pierce’s direction more than anything on defense. He is a durable thumper with unparalleled heart, as evidenced by his ability to overcome the loss of his grandmother and girlfriend within the span of one day and still keep a level head.
Also playing in the Giants’ favor is Te’o’s likelihood to mesh well in defensive coordinator Perry Fewell’s defensive scheme. Fewell often employs a version of the Tampa 2 with his own tweaks to cater to his defense’s strengths.
NFLDraftMonsters.com’s Benjamin Allbright believes Te’o may be best fit in a similar defensive system to get the most out of him.
I really feel that, much like Brian Urlacher, Manti Te’o is going to need the Cover 2 to maximize his skill set at the professional level
— Benjamin Allbright (@NFLDraftMonster) January 8, 2013
The Giants need a middle linebacker, and there may not be a better fit in the early stages of the draft than Te’o. With a lot of needs to address, the Giants will be hard-pressed to pick a position of lesser importance with their first-round pick, but if Te’o is still on the board, it’s going to be hard for New York to say no.