Manti Te’o is likely done in San Diego–So now what?
By Louis Gorini
The San Diego Chargers lost another key starter this past weekend to a season-ending injury. Manti Te’o tore his Achilles tendon in the first half of Sunday’s game against the Indianapolis Colts. With the departure of Eric Weddle this offseason, Te’o assumed the role of being the leader on the Chargers defense.
The former Notre Dame inside linebacker has been a polarizing contributor for San Diego’s defense. On one hand, Te’o has been an immediate starter and natural leader on defense. He has proven to be an intelligent player who has flourished as the play caller and communicator in the middle of San Diego’s defense.
On the other hand, Te’o’s limited athletic ability has made his play on the field highly inconsistent and mediocre at times. Last year was the Chargers’ inside linebacker’s best year as he amassed 82 total tackles, one interception, one forced fumble and 0.5 sack. However, statistics can be deceiving. Pro Football Focus gave Te’o a 35.4 grade for his 2015 performance, ranking him 91 out of 94 for qualifying linebackers. A huge reason for his low grade by PFF was because of his poor play against the run. Te’o missed 16 tackles last year, which was proof that at times he didn’t have the strength or speed to be a major impact player the Chargers envisioned him to be.
Tackles weren’t the only thing Te’o has missed an abundance of year in and year out. When it is all said and done after this year, Te’o will have missed 26 games in his first four years with the Chargers, giving him the label of being injury prone.
Te’o is in the last year of his rookie contact with San Diego, and it is hard to imagine the Chargers allocating funds to an inconsistent player who has been decimated with injuries during the first four years of his career. Unfortunately for Te’o, this was a make-or-break year for him. San Diego has smartly prepared for this day with their fifth-round selection in the 2016 NFL Draft, Jatavis Brown.
To the common NFL fan, Brown is a small-school college player who the Chargers took a flyer on late in the draft. However, Brown is a diamond in the rough. After the selection by San Diego, an anonymous GM was quoted to say, “Jatavis Brown, what a smart and shrewd pick by the Chargers.” Maybe that GM was alluding to Brown’s physical attributes as the 5-foot-11, 212 lb. linebacker ran a 4.47 40-yard dash in the regional combine. Or maybe that GM was talking about the former Akron linebacker’s on-field production. In 2015, Brown totaled 116 tackles with 20 of those tackles for losses and 12 sacks, earning him the 2015 MAC Defensive Player of the Year award. Or maybe that GM was referencing Brown’s versatility. The hybrid rookie displays an elite ability to rush the passer and also graded high in coverage as well.
“Jatavis Brown, what a smart and shrewd pick by the Chargers”- ANONYMOUS GM
The changing of the guard is bitter sweet for Chargers fans. San Diego is sure to lose a fan favorite and leader on defense in Manti Te’o. However, the future is promising.
The Chargers got a glimpse of the future this past Sunday. In Te’o’s absence, Brown had six tackles including two for a loss, one sack, one forced fumble and defended two passes (one against a speedy wide receiver in Phillip Dorsett). PFF gave Brown the highest pass-rushing grade of any off-linebacker this season. Between Denzel Perryman and Brown, the Chargers have finally found their pair of playmakers in the middle of the defense that they have been looking for.