LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu was a finalist last year, though he made a big impact on special teams as well.
Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson is the only defensive player to win the Heisman, in 1997, but he, too, saw time on special teams, along with wide receiver.
Te'o won the Butkus Award earlier Monday as the nation's best linebacker, and he will be in a different city each day this week for a different honor following a regular season that saw his team finish atop the rankings with a 12-0 record.
Te'o has 103 tackles, seven interceptions and two fumble recoveries for the nation's top scoring defense.
The official Heisman ceremony is 8 p.m. ET Saturday at the Best Buy Theater in Times Square.