Posted on: December 11, 2011 11:47 pm
Edited on: January 6, 2012 3:49 pm
Many NFL teams needing help at linebacker will wake up Monday morning to discover that one of the few potential first round prospects is passing up his chance at the NFL to return for his senior season.
According to a report from the Chicago Tribune, Notre Dame junior inside linebacker Manti Te'o announced Sunday at the Lott IMPACT Trophy Awards that he'll be playing for Notre Dame in 2012. Brian Hamilton's article also notes that Notre Dame has confirmed the news.
Te'o was rated behind only another junior -- Boston College's Luke Kuechly -- on NFLDraftScout.com's rankings of inside linebackers potentially available for the 2012 draft. Audie Cole from North Carolina State is the highest rated senior at the position but is currently graded as a 3rd round prospect and NFLDraftScout.com's No. 87 rated player. By comparison, Te'o is rated No. 27, overall.
The 6-2, 255 pound Te'o signed with Notre Dame as one of the highest decorated prep prospects in the country. He proved an immediate difference-maker for the Irish and had steadily improved his stock throughout his career. Te'o was voted a finalist for the Butkus Award this year after leading the Irish in tackles (113), tackles for loss (13) and sacks (4.5). The junior still has the upcoming Champs Sports Bowl against Florida State December 29 to top the career-high 133 tackles he posted last year -- the highest total from a Notre Dame player since 1983 (Tony Furjanic).
Te'o certainly has the build scouts are looking for at the mike position and he has ucommon speed for his size, as well. While he's not necessarily the thumper his size would lead you to believe, Te'o locates the ball quickly and is a reliable tackler. He has the athleticism and awareness for coverage and has some natural pass rush skills, as well. As such, scouts from 4-3 and 3-4 teams, alike, were intrigued by the Notre Dame linebacker.
One team that could be particularly disappointed to see Te'o return to Notre Dame might be the Buffalo Bills. The Bills' struggles to stop the run this season is one reason I had previously projected Buffalo to select Te'o in my latest first round mock draft.
Instead it appears that Notre Dame's Brian Kelly will be the coach boasting this difference-making linebacker next season.
Posted on: November 26, 2011 11:15 am
Each Friday I list my "Five prospects" that I'll be focusing on for the upcoming weekend. In reality, I'm focusing on dozens of prospects each week, but the players listed below are playing in high profile games and against the caliber of competition that I believe provides us with an opportunity to truly assess how a collegiate player might fare when asked to make the huge jump to the NFL.
Typically I focus on senior prospects in this space. However, with it becoming more and more obvious as to which underclassmen are considering the jump to the pros, I'll be incorporating a few more juniors and redshirt sophomores in the coming weeks.
ILB Audie Cole, North Carolina State: For all of the talk this season about underclassmen inside linebackers Manti Te'o, Luke Kuechly and Vontaze Burfict (among others), Cole is quietly earning top 75 grades from some scouts. Big (6-4, 239) and athletic enough to move back to outside linebacker, Cole is viewed as one of the more versatile linebackers in a relatively weak senior class. He's getting plenty of Senior Bowl buzz and should perform well in his final home game against a Maryland team that features the run. This game begins at 12:30 pm ET and will be broadcast by ESPN3.
ILB Donta Hightower, Alabama: As you can tell from my Top 32 "Big Board," of the so-called elite Alabama defenders, I'm lowest on Hightower. In terms of their ability to play in the NFL I rank the top draft-eligible Crimson Tide defenders as Dre' Kirkpatrick, Courtney Upshaw and Mark Barron over Hightower, a 6-4, 260 pound redshirt junior. Hightower is clearly more explosive this year than last as he further heals from the torn ACL that ended his 2009 season prematurely, but still doesn't have the lateral agility and straight-line speed most teams operating out of 4-3 are going to be looking for at linebacker. A move to defensive end is possible. Teams operating out of the 3-4 will certainly like Hightower's bulk and explosive hitting in their scheme, however. I'm curious to see Hightower have to defend in the open field, something I expect an Auburn team currently averaging 183.5 yards on the ground to force him to do. This game begins at 3:30 pm ET and will be televised by CBS.
Posted on: September 22, 2011 11:27 am
The Cincinnati Bearcats host the North Carolina State Wolfpack tonight (8 pm ET) in an interesting Big East/ACC showdown.
There are a number of pro prospects worth watching in this game, but the two prospects scouts will be paying the most attention to will actually be squaring off one on one on many occasions, making the matchup all the more intriguing.
The hosting Bearcats boast one of the top -- if relatively anonymous -- running backs in the country in senior Isaiah Pead. Pead, a 5-10, 200 pound speedster led the Big East in rushing last season (1,029 yards) despite missing two games with a bruised knee. Don't think he's just a back capable of chewing up yards against "weak" competition. The Tennessee Volunteers found out just how explosive Pead is just a few weeks ago when he ran for 155 yards and a touchdown against them. Pead only rushed the ball 14 times, meaning he averaged 11.1 yards per attempt on the road against a quality SEC defense. Pead currently ranks as NFLDraftScout.com's No. 2 senior running back prospect and our No. 9 running back potentially available for the 2012 draft.
Pead will be facing one of the active linebackers in the country in NC State's Audie Cole, however. The 6-4, 239 pound Cole played strongside linebacker throughout most of his career, but was moved inside this season to help make up for the loss of Nate Irving -- a third round pick by the Denver Broncos (No. 67 overall).
Cole is athletic and generally recognizes the action quickly. This can lead to a lot of splashy plays at or near the line of scrimmage. Last season, however, he was prone to over-running the play, leaving cutback angles to backs with good vision and burst. He also had a tendency to hit ball-carriers, rather than wrapping them up securely. This is precisely why Pead could spring a big play or two on the Wolfpack.
Not surprisingly, Cole leads NC State in tackles for loss (5.5 in only three games) and is a close second to safety Earl Wolfe in total tackles (Wolfe has 28, Cole has 22). Cole has also racked up 1.5 sacks and has already forced and recovered a fumble this season. The versatile Cole currently is graded as an inside linebacker by NFLDraftScout.com and rates as our No. 4 senior at the position.
Looking for others to watch in this game? NC State has an interesting senior tight end in George Bryan. The 6-5, 265 pounder earned First Team All-ACC honors after each of the past two seasons. Scouts question whether he has enough athleticism, however, to enjoy similar success in today's pass-heavy NFL.
This game will be televised by ESPN.