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.