Manti Te’o was brought in to New Orleans to compete for a starting role for a defense that needed help. The 27-year-old former Notre Dame standout made his case in the offseason for a starting role but was eventually beat out by former Panther A.J. Klein and rookie third round pick from Florida Alex Anzalone.
Anzalone was having a promising start to his NFL career before a season-ending shoulder injury in Week 3 against the Carolina Panthers. Te’o and Craig Robertson saw their playtime increase due to the injury, and both were playing well. Later in the season, the Saints shining signal caller (Klein) would be placed on season-ending injured reserve with a groin injury. This was a huge blow to the surprisingly good young Saints defense.
Many thought all was lost, but Te’o played solid when he was in all year, and the team had confidence he could fill the void. He came in and played lights out and was all over the field. He was explosive and always seemed to be causing havoc in the backfield. His most impressive game came at the best time, while the Saints were visiting Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the first time and Saints were salivating for a win against the Dirty Birds. The Saints had a shot at going to Atlanta and coming out with a win late, but a late turnover by Drew Brees put the game on the rocks. Although the Saints played better and should've won, the game Te’o had was excellent, as he tallied 10 tackles and seemed to be in the backfield every series.
In the Divisional Round playoff game against Minnesota where all Saints fans want to forget, Te’o had himself a game and was a big reason the Saints defense locked down in the second half. Te’o had another 10-tackle game and a huge sack to get the Saints defense off the field.
Manti Te’o had a fresh start with the Saints after struggling with the Chargers. Te’o signed a 2-year deal last offseason and was a key to the Saints defensive success. He will definitely be competing for a starting spot in 2018. Linebacker is a position of need for the Saints, as their core lacks speed and athleticism, like a Deion Jones or Ryan Shazier type linebacker. He will be playing in a contract year and it will be interesting who is starting at each linebacker position next season.
The Saints will be (or should be) picking up at least one good linebacker via the draft or free agency, but for the first time in awhile in New Orleans, the linebacking corps has great competition. Te’o was a huge surprise for me and many others, as his role was expected to be just a role player, but he stepped up and led the Saints defense when he was called upon. After the 2018 season (assuming he puts together a quality season like 2017), it will be a must re-sign for the New Orleans, as he has a tremendous amount of value to that depth chart.