CSN Mock Draft, Pick 21: Bengals select ...

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CSN Mock Draft, Pick 21: Bengals select ...
April 13, 2013, 9:00 am
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Manti Te’o, MLB, Notre Dame (6-1, 241)

Manti Te’o’s shockingly poor performance in the BCS title game casts him in the role of a leopard needing to change its spots. So, it’s convenient that he’s available for the Bengals, who need depth at linebacker. One thing the past several months have revealed about Te’o is he’s a different breed of cat.

Amazingly, the former Notre Dame star managed to resuscitate his upstanding reputation after that forgettable final game and the subsequent catfishing scheme that made the Heisman Trophy runner-up a national punchline. Te’o weathered his storms by facing his demons head on, the same way he mans the middle linebacker position.

Te’o plays with supreme confidence and is extremely physical, attributes that make him an ideal fit for the rugged AFC North. What I love about Te’o is he’s a coach’s dream. He gives his all on every play, shows keen instincts that help him to level the field against more athletic opponents, and exudes strong leadership qualities. Watch video of Te’o and you’ll see he often relies on feel to lead him to the football, and he does everything in top gear. If Te’o makes a mistake, he does so at full speed, just the way coaches teach. When he lays a hit, he’s decisive, wraps up and puts the ball carrier on the ground.

At times, Te’o does appear to guess in anticipation of the snap, and when he’s wrong he looks exposed because he’s moving at top speed. The championship game against Alabama revealed this side of Te’o’s game to an extreme degree. Too often he was slow to recognize what the ‘Bama offense was doing, which resulted in his flailing at ball carriers and missing numerous tackles. Te’o repeatedly has denied that the catfishing scam affected his play that night, but he was clearly not the same player that showed up so dynamically throughout the 2012 season.

While linebacker is not necessarily a pressing need in the first round, Te’o carries value in the No. 21 slot. His ability to step in and complete Cincinnati’s starting unit is enticing. This offseason, OLB Manny Lawson left for Buffalo, and the Bengals re-signed MLB Rey Maualuga to a two-year deal in March. There is speculation Maualuga may be moved outside, with weakside linebacker Vontaze Burfict moving to the middle. But, Burfict had such a strong rookie season that it might be wise to leave him on the outside and draft Te’o to play the middle. It would be interesting to watch that trio try to build a name for itself in a division known for great linebackers.

In 2011, Marvin Lewis drafted his quarterback of the future in Andy Dalton. Cincinnati went on to make the playoffs each of his first two seasons. But, Cincinnati hasn’t played beyond the wild-card round since 1991.

This year, if Lewis hand-picks a quarterback for his defense, he would be hard-pressed to find one who has scratched and clawed his way through more adversity than Te’o.

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