Coming off a season in which they ranked fifth in the NFL in total defense and 28th in total offense, the Chicago Bears have plenty of incentive to spend their first-round draft pick on a player who can help them score. However, Chicago also has two starting linebackers to replace, and they may have a shot at a potential draft steal to help do it.
As noted by ESPN, the Bears are part of a cluster of teams likely to consider drafting Notre Dame star Manti Te’o. Even with Chicago’s needs on offense, if Te’o falls to the Bears, they’ll need an awfully good alternative to make it worth passing him up.
Te’o’s stock has dropped severely in the last three months. He was hit hard by a combination of the much-discussed hoax surrounding his nonexistent girlfriend, a disastrous end to Notre Dame’s season in a BCS title game blowout and his own disappointing combine performance.
None of those factors, however, should erase what was a magnificent senior year for the 6’2”, 255-lb Fighting Irish star. His 113 tackles and seven interceptions (as a middle linebacker, yet) led a devastating ND defense that allowed just 12.8 points per game.
Just as crucial, Te’o brings terrific intangibles to the MLB spot. He’s a natural, vocal leader and his terrific instincts go a long way toward making up for any shortcomings in terms of athleticism.
With Brian Urlacher gone, the Bears need a long-term replacement for both his production and his role as the team’s emotional engine. Te’o is a natural fit on both counts, and he’d be embraced instantly by a fan base that includes more than a few Notre Dame boosters in its ranks.
On top of all that, Te’o would be a fine value with the 20th overall pick. He was being projected as a dark-horse top 10 selection before Alabama wrecked Notre Dame in the national title game. Once he gets to the NFL, he has a good chance to make teams that pass him up regret the importance they’re placing on that one game.
Lastly, for the history buffs out there, this would hardly be the first time an underrated Notre Dame MLB turned out to be something special. In 1962, the Patriots took a 13th-round flyer on unheralded Irish product Nick Buoniconti, who only went on to make eight Pro Bowls, win two Super Bowl rings as a Dolphin and earn a spot in the Hall of Fame.
Like any rookie, Te’o could be a bust, but his collegiate track record (including three 100-tackle seasons) suggests that he probably won’t. If Chicago has the opportunity to draft him, he’ll reward them for taking the chance—or punish them later when he’s helping some other team shut down the Bear offense.