Christmas Day is still two weeks away, but Notre Dame fans were treated to an early Christmas present on Sunday when junior linebacker Manti Te’o announced he would be returning to Notre Dame for his senior season instead of entering the 2012 NFL Draft.
Earlier this week it was reported that Te’o sought an evaluation from the NFL advisory committee and many NFL Draft experts had Te’o projected as a first round pick, but the Hawaiian native decided to by pass the NFL for now to come back to Notre Dame for another season.
Two years in a row now, Brian Kelly pulled off his biggest recruiting coup of the year months before signing day. Last year Kelly convinced Michael Floyd to return for a senior season when it looked like he was headed to the NFL a year early. This year’s sales job had to be a much tougher sell though. Floyd had a lot of competition at the wide receiver position while many experts considered Te’o one of, if not the best, inside linebacker in the draft.
Te’o return will solidify a defense that will be replacing 75% of the starting secondary and will give Notre Dame one of the best front seven’s the Irish have had in some time. Notre Dame will be set all along the defensive line and on the edges of the front seven, but inside linebacker would have been a big question mark for Notre Dame next season had Te’o decided to pursue his NFL career a year early.
Notre Dame’s line will feature a three year starter in Karpon Lewis Moore (assuming he returns for a 5th season) along with youngsters Louis Nix, Stephon Tuiit, and Aaron Lynch along with talented underclassmen like Chase Hounshell who saw plenty of playing time in 2011. At outside linebacker, Prince Shembo will return as a starter with the likes of Danny Spond, Ishaq Williams, and Ben Councell competing for the other starting position.
Te’o's return though is what could make next year’s front seven special. Carlo Calabrese and Dan Fox will likely split time next to Te’o again in 2012 unless an underclassmen like Anthony Rabassa can earn a starting role.
Notre Dame is still waiting to hear if Tyler Eifert will be returning for his senior season. Like Te’o, Eifert asked the NFL Advisory Committee for a draft evaluation last week as well. Without a new commitment on the recruiting front for a while now though, Sunday’s news was some of the best news Notre Dame fans received in a while and will more than do until Efiert announces his intentions as well.