Manti Te'o to the New Orleans Saints?

At this time of year, most mock drafts seem to look pretty similar. But, as I read through Mel Kiper Jr.’s latest Insider offeringInsider in which he plays general manager for three rounds, I found one big surprise in the NFC South.

Kiper has the Saints taking Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o at No. 15. I haven’t seen that one suggested anywhere else, as most draft experts have the Saints focusing on an edge rusher or a cornerback. Kiper acknowledges both needs, but said the right players weren’t available at No. 15 in this mock, so he went with Te’o.

This scenario isn’t completely off the wall. Te’o is an inside linebacker and everyone assumes the Saints are fine at that position with Curtis Lofton and Jonathan Vilma. But Vilma has a history of knee problems, and he didn’t excel in the 3-4 scheme when he played it for the Jets. There could be a landing spot for Te’o in New Orleans.

Kiper’s other first-round picks for the NFC South teams are much more conventional. He has Tampa Bay taking Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei at No. 13. Of course, that’s going on the assumption that the Bucs don’t trade that pick as part of a deal for cornerback Darrelle Revis.

At No. 14, Kiper has Carolina taking Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. I’m kind of amazed how there seems to be universal agreement on what’s going to happen with the 14th overall pick in a year when the top five picks aren’t very clear.

At No. 30, Kiper has the Atlanta Falcons taking Stanford tight end Zach Ertz. I understand the school of thought that the Falcons need to start grooming a replacement for Tony Gonzalez. But the Falcons have a more pressing need at cornerback, and I think they should address it in the first round.