Let me preface what I am about to say by making it very clear that I have spent a significant amount of time in the last 20 hours or so reading and listening to a myriad of statements and opinions on the case of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, and the story that his girlfriend who was reported to have passed away during the season was not real. And in my personal opinion, I believe Te’o and the University in this one. Still, I understand why many wouldn’t. We as a society are callous, jaded, and live with the attitude that no one ever gets the benefit of the doubt. Or do they?
But in that same sense, many of us are hypocrites. We defend cyclist Lance Armstrong literally for years for the sake of honesty in a sport that had none; we open our hearts to drug addicts like Tyrann Mathieu who show even the slightest big of contrition, only to burn us a second and third time with their terrible judgment. So, it comes as a bit of a surprise to me that Te’o, an honored student athlete who has never done anything but walk the path of the righteous during his time at Notre Dame, is somehow being vilified for this as if he were the mastermind of some elaborate conspiracy, and that public opinions of him as a football player are somehow changed because of it.
And that’s what I really want to talk about. You are going to get plenty of articles about how awful Te’o is, or how he’s an innocent man. The internet, and social media in particular, is all a flutter about how this incident, as of yet unresolved, will impact his stock in the 2013 NFL draft. Before I offer my opinion of what if any impact these events will have on Te’o in April, it’s important that we are all clear on just where he was rated to begin with.
If you considered Te’o a top-5 talent in this draft, and he ends up getting drafted 10 spots after that, you might be tempted to see that and contend it was this scandal that did it. I would ask that you instead temper your enthusiasm for him as a prospect irrespective of this situation. Could a team in the top 5 reach for Te’o in the draft? In this group, with so few blue chip talent, anything is possible. But I think if anything is going to drive his draft stock down it will be when teams look critically at his game and his lack of closing speed. They will realize he’s going to be limited in the schemes he can play in, and might be a fit only as a coverage backer in a Tampa-2 system. He’s not going to run well at the combine and could struggle in drills and those things could hurt his draft stock.
So Te’o was a mid-first round pick before this, and I suspect once the dust settles, it will stay that way. The NFL is a league of forgiveness. They allow student athletes who do some pretty bad stuff play in their league, and once they show they are sorry (and more importantly, show they can play), all is forgiven. By comparison, assuming Te’o was an active participant in this whole thing makes him at worst creepy and narcissistic, but if he did this to promote himself, how does this really make him that much different than every other self-absorbed NFL diva? He’s not a criminal, and for me, being creepy and egotistical is far less concerning to me than being a felon. Teams are going to interview Te’o, work him out and test him, but the notion that they are going to somehow take Te’o off his draft board because he may or may not have had a fake girlfriend shows this reactionary mentality that the general community has when it comes to prospects. It’s the same sort of thinking that after one bad game, a player is suddenly a bad draft prospect.
Te’o will weather this whether or not he was involved in this or just an innocent victim. Come follow me on Twitter @nfldraftboard for more football ramblings.