A shockingly pedestrian performance against the Crimson Tide, however, threatened to chip away at his previously unquestioned status as the top inside linebacker in the 2013 draft class.
Since, Te'o's stock has further taken a hit after being embroiled in an admittedly embarrassing "hoax" that hit the national stage Jan. 16. NFL teams had the opportunity to speak to him without cameras (or his lawyer) during interviews at the Scouting Combine and leading up to the draft.
Te'o was widely considered the top linebacker recruit out of high school in 2008 and the top defensive prospect by many, choosing Notre Dame over USC and several other top programs.
He worked his way into the starting lineup as a true freshman and started nine games, finishing fourth on the team in tackles with 63 stops. Te'o emerged as a defensive leader in 2010 as a sophomore, leading the team with a career-best 133 tackles. He again led the Irish defense in tackles in 2011 as a junior with 128 stops, adding 13.5 tackles for loss and 5.0 sacks and earning All-American honors.
While he did not join former Michigan star Charles Woodson as the second defender to win the Heisman Trophy, Te'o is considered by some to be the most decorated defender in college football history. He won the Maxwell Award and Walter Camp Awards as the nation's top player overall, the Lott IMPACT Defensive Player of the Year award, as well as the Bednarik Award (best defender), Nagurski Award (best defender), the Lombardi Award (best lineman/linebacker) and Butkus Award as the nation's top linebacker.
While the NFL could care less about a collegiate prospect's stocked trophy case, it is tough not to acknowledge the relative safety that the 6-2, 255-pound Te'o provides as an instinctive, physical defender capable of making big plays against the run and pass.
May not possess elite straight-line speed as timed in workouts but consistently gets to the edge due to his lateral agility, balance and anticipation. Generally a reliable open field tackler. Brings his hips as he hits the ball-carrier, powering through him and wrapping his arm securely for the tackle. Does a nice job of forcing the ballcarrier to commit, rarely allowing cut-back opportunities.
Returned for his senior season dedicated to making himself a more productive defender against the pass and was incredibly successful in those role, demonstrating not only better speed and fluidity but instincts in coverage. Entered his senior campaign with zero career interceptions but recorded seven in 2012 to lead all FBS linebackers.
Showed much better awareness, body control and ball-skills in this regard as a senior. Known throughout his career as a leader and a man of integrity. Voted a team captain. Earned the prestigious Eagle Scout award in 2008.
WEAKNESSES: Does not possess elite straight-line speed and may struggle to beat the NFL's faster backs to the edge. Was protected by an awfully talented defensive front at Notre Dame and struggled to get off blocks against Alabama when they were unable to keep blockers away from him.
While remarkably productive as a pass defender in 2012, does not possess ideal change-of-direction skills for man coverage responsibilities against NFL pass-catchers. May have shorter than ideal arm-length, which contributed to his slipping off ballcarriers, on occasion. Regardless of the reason, Te'o played poorly in the biggest game of his life.
Te'o handled himself well during media interviews following the dead girlfriend hoax that played out on the national stage, but did he satisfy the concerns teams have during private interviews?
COMPARES TO: AJ Hawk, ILB, Green Bay Packers -- Like Hawk, Te'o may struggle to live up to his hype in the NFL after a dominant collegiate career. Nevertheless, the instinctive and stout run-defender will ultimately prove to be a quality inside linebacker whose consistency and leadership help push his NFL team toward success.