"Dancing with the Stars" champ Drew Lachey says Chad Ochocinco will be dancing to the end on ABC's top-rated show.
"I've said from the beginning that Chad would be in the top three, and I stand by my prediction," says Lachey, 33, who won the second season with Cheryl Burke, Chad's partner.
The three remaining celebrities dance in the finals May 24. The winner will be announced May 25.
The 1994 School for Creative & Performing Arts graduate is not concerned about the wide receiver's slow start, ranking in the bottom half all but one week.
"The good thing is that Chad didn't come out so strong that he didn't have any room for improvement. So the judges and audience can see how far he has come," he says.
Ochocinco and comedian Niecy Nash tied in second-last place last week ahead of TV mom Kate Gosselin, who was voted out Tuesday.
Lachey, who performed before large crowds with brother Nick in their band, 98°, says Ochocinco needed to acclimate himself to the show, despite playing football in a sold-out stadium.
"It's very intimidating being on that show" watched by 20 million people, says Lachey, who recently moved back to Cincinnati with his wife, Lea, and daughter.
"He probably thought it would be easier. He's used to moving with football pads on. He didn't realize the lines (arm position and posture) are so important," he says.
Ochocinco and Burke rehearsed a tango here for four days last week. They returned to Los Angeles late Saturday, so they could perform their routine today at ABC's dress rehearsal.
The tango could be difficult for the six-time Pro Bowl pick. It's a "smooth" dance requiring closeness and good posture, like the quickstep and foxtrot - which resulted in Chad and Cheryl's lowest scores. He has done better with rhythm dances, such as the rumba and cha cha cha.
Yet Chad could be champ because of his athleticism, work ethic, competitive nature and partner, Lachey says. Burke, 25, has made the finals four times - and won twice - in nine seasons.
"I'm seeing progress. As long as he works hard, and listens to Cheryl Burke, he'll do well. He's got a decent shot," Lachey says.
"Cheryl consistently gets her partner into the finals. She's done it with a lot less talent than Chad - and I mean me."