Editor’s Note: It’s been brought to our attention that Manti Te’o has suffered through an immensely tragic week. Te’o lost his grandmother on Tuesday, and the following day, his girlfriend lost her battle with leukemia. Our prayers, thoughts, and sincere condolences go out to Manti, and all of the loved ones who are suffering through these tragic losses.
Welcome to SHOWDOWN, where TDR will feature the best weekly match-up between projected top talent heading into the 2013 NFL Draft. This week features a smash-mouth match-up between Notre Dame ILB Manti Te’o, who has been wowing scouts since high school, and Michigan State RB Le’Veon Bell, who has just recently burst onto the scene as a possible first-round talent.
TALE OF THE TAPE
MANTI TE’O – ILB – NOTRE DAME
6’2″, 255 – Senior – #5
Te’o is the complete package at inside linebacker. His frame lacks nothing you would want in an ideal player at the position, and when you turn on the tape, you see one of the best pure football players in the country.
As a run stopper, Te’o has excellent instincts, shows great burst in getting to the ball carrier, and delivers a punishing blow when he makes contact. His athleticism is evident against the cut block, where he shows a consistent ability to extend his arms and push his lower body out and away from the block, leaving him free to pursue. He sheds blocks consistently and fills the gap quickly, rarely getting run over by a runner at the point of attack.
In pass coverage, he shows the hip fluidity you want to see in a potential top-10 pick, and he seems just as comfortable lined up against a back or TE as he is in zone coverage. The same burst and instincts that make him such an effective run-stopper are also present in coverage, allowing him to break on the ball and make big plays in pass defense.
As a pass rusher, Te’o doesn’t possess the quiver of moves that you would see out of a pure sack-master, but especially for an inside backer, he’s got a more-than-adequate skill set when it comes to getting after the passer. Inside backers are often brought in on delayed blitzes, and Te’o shines in this scenario. His explosiveness makes him a tough task for any offensive lineman trying to adjust to pick him up on the blitz.
LE’VEON BELL – RB – MICHIGAN STATE
6’2″, 244 – Junior – #24
This first thing that stands out to me watching Bell on tape is obviously his pure strength as a runner. He runs with a punishing mean streak, and sports a devastating stiff arm. Bell is taller than you’d normally want a tailback to be, but he runs with a much lower pad level than his height would suggest. Bell is one of those backs who never seems to believe that the play is over, always fighting and working for those last few inches.
Another thing that jumps out on film in Bell’s balance, awareness, and body control. Bell is constantly able to extend plays by reaching an arm down to keep himself up, or by timing a perfect juke or spin move as soon as he’s landed from hurdling over a defender. Those few inches and yards are precious, and Bell is the type of back who doesn’t leave much, if any, yardage that could have been gained.
Bell is also an adequate option in the passing game, showing soft, reliable hands and the ability to make plays in space. He’s serviceable enough as a pass protector, and will only improve in this area once his technique catches up with his massive frame.
These two athletes are very similar in style, but Te’o has the edge in overall physical ability, as well as intangibles. Bell is still just a junior, and while his blast-off performance in Week 1 against Boise State was definitely a loud statement (50 touches, 265 yards, 2 TD), he was brought back to Earth a little last week, averaging just 3.9 yards-per-carry against Central Michigan. Ever since he stepped on the field as a freshman, Te’o has been the heart and soul of the Irish defense, and his consistency as a leader and a play-maker give him the edge in this match-up.