Manti Te’o is one of the numerous enigmas entering the 2013 NFL draft. After an incredible senior year at Notre Dame, the middle linebacker and Heisman runner-up is facing his next major challenge.
Te’o was widely considered a top-10 pick as of January, until the whole “hoax girlfriend” thing. Frankly I’m tired of the entire situation, so as your football source… here is a full compilation of the various stories relating to Te’o and his social media girlfriend.
To keep it brief here, Te’o apparently met a girl from Stanford, began talking with her and they started a long-distance relationship. She began struggling with health issues (she was apparently diagnosed with Leukemia and was in critical condition after a car accident) and the media blew the story into the national spotlight. Te’o was interviewed by everyone as he continued to not only answer questions about his dying girlfriend, who supposedly passed away early in the season, but play at an incredibly high level in her memory as he led the Fighting Irish to the National Championship. Then a story on Deadspin came out claiming that the girlfriend never existed and that was the end of the nation’s love affair with Te’o. A poor performance in the National Championship, continuing questions about the entire incident and, now, a poor combine performance later and Te’o is still a question mark.
And I said I didn’t want to talk about it.
Players have fallen further than Te’o (take Vontaze Burfict from last spring for example), but Te’o went from a undeniable leader to an unknown person, who has denied any involvement, still hasn’t completely convinced NFL personnel guys.
Now I could go on and on about how atrocious it is that the media allowed the Te’o girlfriend story to go on as long as it did (how did nobody do the background research on the girl – Kekua?), the NFL scouting combine is where we pick this story up.
Let’s begin with Te’o meeting with the media before his workouts…
When I watched it, I was impressed. I thought he handled the media well, he stood up to the media horde in an unprecedented situation where all eyes were on a NFL prospect like never before. Sure, he didn’t come across as completely convincing, but face it; there is nothing he can say to completely bring an end to all the scrutiny and criticism of this fiasco. Just keep in mind, all assumptions aside, this was a college kid who faced down the biggest job interview of his life with poise and that was before he met with the people who will actually decide his fate. I think it demonstrates an ability to face adversity head on and mental toughness, which is essential in the NFL.
The performance on the field was much less endearing. His 40-yard dash time was a paltry 4.82 seconds.
Let that sink in…
4.82 seconds is pretty bad by linebacker standards and actually ranked 15th if you stack him up against the 40-yard dash times of the defensive and offensive lineman. Te’o was never considered a burner or really all that athletic in the first place, but his instincts and football IQ were enough to set him apart from those with more natural athletic ability. Still, the 4o time wasn’t what people were looking for after following the hoax story. Teams will put up with the peculiar if the talent is simply too good to ignore. Te’o needed to show some athletic ability to be “too good to ignore” and he wasn’t. To be fair, the 40-yard dash isn’t everything. It’s far from it. In reality, the 40-yard dash really is more for shock value, both good and bad, and normally doesn’t decide a prospect’s value. Luckily for Te’o, the rest of his workout was solid as you can see in the video below.
I personally think Te’o did fine at the combine. Others didn’t. For example, Bleacher Report, ESPN and USA Today. You can see from his 40-yard dash that he hit his top speed very early in the run and was running straight up for around 20-yards. I’m no sprinter, but I know running straight up like he did also immediately after getting out of his stance doesn’t help your time. My point is: when is he going to be asked to take a sprinter’s stance and run that again? I understand that the 40 -yard dash is meant to measure speed and quick burst off the starting line, but if the issue is more based in his running technique, then is it an accurate representation of his football speed? I don’t think it does. I think Te’o has the ability, in my eyes, to get over his lack of straight-line speed. I think he can, and will, be a solid player in the league for years to come.
The other issue here is if teams will look over him because of the hoax specifically. Texans DE Antonio Smith said that Te’o would be “the butt of every joke” if he was drafted by Houston. The hoax was covered frequently before it was known to be a hoax and after discovering it was, the media covered the fallout religiously. All of it has added up and now there are many out there who are sick of hearing about it. There was the brief internet trend of “Teoing” and now he demands tremendous media attention as he gets closer to the NFL draft. If Te’o is as good as some think, including myself, this whole hoax thing will eventually phase out. If he struggles, he will remain the center of all jokes even within the locker room, which could present other complications.
I still like Te’o. I think he has the ability to be very successful despite the concerns about athleticism. He seems like an instinctive player who knows how to play when the lights turn on. Teams will have to decide if their locker room can handle what’s left of his circus, but if they do, I think they get a solid player. I’m not buying into this poor combine performance too much and despite the concerns, Te’o is still supposed to be drafted around the end of the 1st-round by Denver or Baltimore.
Even that is a little up in the air when NFL Network caught Ravens head coach John Harbaugh looking a little displeased with Te’o’s run. Read into how you wish.
The Te’o story won’t go away, so be ready to hear more about him as the draft process continues to progress.