Manti Te'o vs. Jonas Mouton: Who should be starting for the San Diego Chargers?

Jonathan Daniel

The perception is that Manti Te'o is a future star in the NFL and that Jonas Mouton shouldn't even make the roster of the San Diego Chargers in 2013. Where did that perception come from? The players are more similar than you may think.

Let me show you something really quick before I get all wordy on you.

Stats

Solo Tackles Total Tackles Tackles for Loss Sacks Int FF

60

117

8.5

2.0

2

1

Solo Tackles Total Tackles Tackles for Loss Sacks Int FF

55

113

5.5

1.5

7

0

Any guesses as to what that is? Those are the senior seasons for Manti Te'o and Jonas Mouton. Want to try to figure out which season belongs to which player? (Keep reading to find out.)

During last night's very unstructured episode of Gennaro-ly Speaking (video down at the bottom of this post), I asked everyone why they're so comfortable with Manti Te'o as the starting ILB for the San Diego Chargers and terrified of the thought of Jonas Mouton holding the same job.

When you look at the stats above, they look like very similar players. One of them caught the ball more in his senior season, but was less consistent with doing so (those 7 picks were the only interceptions in his four years of college football). We also know that one of those players played on a 12-1 team his senior season while the other played on a 7-6 team.

Draft Position/Perception

Were there differences in the two players coming out of college? Sure. Draft experts had Te'o slotted higher than where the Chargers drafted him (38th overall) and had Mouton slotted lower than where he was selected (61st overall). Tom Telesco traded up in the second round to pick Te'o, whereas A.J. Smith grabbed Mouton with one of the team's five picks in the first three rounds of the 2011 NFL Draft.

Fans of the San Diego Chargers have learned next to nothing about Jonas Mouton since he was drafted, and subsequently missed his rookie season with a shoulder injury. Mouton also missed out on a lot of the usual training and coaching that goes on in a player's rookie season because when he was drafted, the NFL had locked the players out.

Last year, Michael Gehlken wrote a piece about Mouton's eagerness to get past his injury and get caught up with the rest of the team. It being his first real offseason, and his first chance to get on the field, many considered last year to be Mouton's "rookie season". Unfortunately, Mouton was only able to get on the field for five defensive snaps in the 2012 regular season.

Bront Bird

This was the most common argument used against Mouton during last night's broadcast. "Mouton couldn't even get on the field after Takeo Spikes was thrown out of the final game in 2012!"

I don't know what to tell you. Maybe John Pagano likes Bront Bird for some reason. It's not like he's the end-all and be-all on talent evaluation. He was, after all, starting both Jarret Johnson and Shaun Phillips over Melvin Ingram last year. He also started Vaughn Martin over Kendall Reyes up until the point that Martin got injured and gave him no choice.

Does Pagano putting in Bird over Mouton mean that Mouton isn't as good as Bront Bird? Not in my book.

Draft Experts

Go back and look at the stats at the top of this post. The top one is Mouton, the bottom one (with 7 picks) is Te'o.

Even with those 7 interceptions, many draft experts said that Te'o was not a "3-down Linebacker" and that he'd need to be taken off the field in passing situations. These are the same draft experts that said that Jonas Mouton was a major reach in the second round, and then...

The college scouting team at Scouts Inc. learned a valuable lesson when the San Diego Chargers took Michigan linebacker Jonas Mouton in the second round of the April draft.

The Chargers took Mouton with the No. 61 overall pick. Steve Muench of Scouts Inc. said the group had Mouton ranked as a high third-day prospect. Overall, Scouts Inc. saw 81 of their top 100 players ranked taken in the top 100 picks in the draft. Muench said the Mouton selection was one of the misses that most bothered the group.

Shortly after the draft, the group studied Mouton more and understood why the Chargers took him.

"We missed on him," Muench said. "I don't know I would have taken him that high, but it wouldn't be fair to say it was a big reach."

Muench, who said other NFL teams coveted Mouton in addition to San Diego, said there was a couple of reasons why Scouts Inc. under-ranked Mouton. They initially looked at Mouton, 6-foot-1, 237 pounds, as an outside linebacker, which several teams did as well. But Mouton will likely play inside linebacker for the Chargers' 3-4 defense. Also, Muench said Mouton doesn't have elite athletic ability and he may have been downgraded because Michigan's defense was so poor.

"But look at him again, I think he is a guy who can be a contributor," Muench said. "He has good instincts and he's a good tackler ... We can see what the Chargers liked in him."

If the experts are wrong about one, it stands to reason they could be wrong about both, right? The experts are not always right and they sometimes change their minds, and admit that they didn't do their homework. Keep this in mind when making your arguments in the comments below. Just because someone said something about either player doesn't make it true.

The Lesson: We Know Nothing

I need this to be very clear: I am not making a case for Jonas Mouton to start over Manti Te'o at the other Inside linebacker spot next to Donald Butler. I know a lot of people will respond to this article as if that's the case, but it is not.

What I am trying to do is to remove perception from the equation.

  • Manti Te'o hasn't played a down of NFL football and Jonas Mouton has played just five.
  • They were both selected in the 2nd round.
  • Manti Te'o is 6'1" and 241 lbs. Jonas Mouton is 6'2" and 240 lbs.
  • Both players had similar stats as starters in college.
  • Mouton is essentially a second-year player, after being locked out in his first offseason and missing his entire first season with the shoulder injury.
  • The coaching staff soured on Mouton last season, but now there's a (mostly) new coaching staff.
  • Mouton has spent his offseason getting into shape so that he can contribute to the team.

Te'o is seen as the clear favorite for the starting position, and I'm not sure why. Is it because he was a Heisman finalist? Because that's meaningless. Was it due to his seven interceptions in 2012? Because I'm a little wary of the zero in the three previous seasons. Is it because he played at Notre Dame, and therefore was made into a "star" by NBC and the NCAA leading up to the BCS National Championship? Maybe it was because of the heart-touching story of his girlfriend dying mid-season, or the madness that followed when the world found out the story was fake?

I'm not saying Te'o isn't the better player here. He probably is. If the coaching staff is handing him the keys to the starting job, the chances of that being for any reason other than football talent is small. What I don't understand is the perception that Te'o is twice or three times the player that Mouton is. Where is that coming from?

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