Mel Kiper has some weird fascination with linebackers for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Did he not notice that they had the league's best run defense last season? After mocking linebacker Alec Ogletree to the Bucs last time, he's now giving them Manti Te'o. With Ogletree already off the board. Because if the NFL has taught us anything the past years, it's that 4-3 linebackers are highly valued and come off the board early and often, right?
And this, of course, leads to the selection of Manti Te'o, who became big national news after getting fooled some dude who pretended to be a woman. And then pretended to get into a car accident, die of cancer, return to life and -- seriously, that story is insane, and it doesn't make Te'o look good.
For a pure interior linebacker, Te'o is still the best one on the board. I pushed Ogletree ahead of him based on versatility. I know there will still be questions on the off-the-field stuff, but for the most part Te'o is a known football commodity among NFL evaluators, and he's also considered a safe player to take for the specific goal of having him work inside or on the strongside at linebacker. Tampa Bay could take Te'o and go either way, but he'd represent an upgrade there, particularly on run defense. That said, this is also a LB who was second nationally in INTs, so he knows how to move in coverage as well.
He'd represent an upgrade here, "particularly on run defense"? Seriously, Kiper? What have you been watching? Did the Bucs look like they struggled to stop running backs this season or something? Why are you obsessed with giving the Buccaneers a linebacker to stop the run?
I can sort of understand the argument that the Buccaneers need an extra linebacker, though. Lavonte David is a high-level starter, while Mason Foster is decent but not outstanding and can struggle in coverage. They also have a bunch of replaceable players at strongside linebacker. But the issue here isn't run defense. If anything, it's coverage -- and if the Bucs are going to take a linebacker, they need to take one who is outstanding in coverage and clearly ahead of Mason Foster in that area. Is Manti Te'o that player? I really don't see it when I look at him on the field -- he looks like a solid but unspectacular player who you can plug in, but who won't do anything special.
And that's before we get to whatever that off-field stuff was. Don't think for a moment that that won't impact his draft status: the question is to what extent he lied to people, and to what extent he pushed for the story to develop in the media even after he knew it was all bogus. That will worry NFL teams, because it says something about the mental makeup of this kid. The combine interviews will be immensely important for him.
But here's what irks me about this mock draft: the amount of high quality, impact players left on the board when Kiper has the Bucs taking Te'o. Sheldon Richardson, Johnathan Hankins and Sharrif Floyd could make a big impact at nose tackle, and could provide pass rush where Roy Miler can't. Lane Johnson is an outstanding tackle who could play on the right side immediately and eventually replace Donald Penn on the left, who will be 30 when the season starts. Ezekiel Ansah is an intriguing player with a ton of potential as a pass-rusher, while Zach Ertz and Tyler Eifert could be difference makers at tight end. Kenny Vaccaro is my favorite player in the draft, and he'd fit right in at free safety. And, of course, there are the cornerbacks: Johnthan Banks and Xavier Rhodes would present instant upgrades at that position.
All of those players would be better fits and better selections than Manti Te'o, who doesn't fit a need and isn't the best player on the board.