For anyone who has been living under a rock for the last three months, Notre Dame Linebacker Manti Te’o was a Heisman Trophy finalist this past season and one of football’s top linebackers. Leading up to the BCS Championship Bowl, he was set to become a top 10 draft choice, with a very impressive season of 115 total tackles, 7 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles and almost every NCAA defensive award that you can think of.
Then, on January 7th during the blowout defeat to Alabama at the BCS Championship game, Te’o was a no-show. Although he recorded 10 tackles in the game, only 3 were solo tackles (and he missed what looked like twice as many), as A.J McCarron (264 yards passing, 4 TDs) and Eddie Lacy (140-yards rushing, 1 TD) took Notre Dame to the cleaners. This put a rather large crimp in his top 10 draft prospects, but one that he could shrug off with at the NFL Scouting Combine, proving that he is still the man behind the 437 tackles in his ND career and that was a one off.
A week after the BCS Championship loss, Deadspin.com broke the story that the death of Te’o’s girlfriend back in September was a hoax. After a few weeks, it came out that a friend named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo had concocted the entire hoax without the knowledge of Te’o. Tuiasosopo told Dr. Phil in February hat he had fallen in love with Te’o and used the fake girl as an escape.
Hundreds of questions surfaced surrounding Te’o’s denial in the involvement, which called his character into question, and he has spent the last two months cleaning it up. All of this culminating in 21 NFL interviews at the combine, all asking him to talk about it and allowing him to put the issue to bed.
Risks behind drafting Manti Te’o
If the Cincinnati Bengals choose to draft him then they know the risks.
The obvious one here is of course his character. If he did in fact lie, then it was for selfish reasons. If a player is willing to deceive an entire nation for his own personal gain, then it would call into question whether or not they would deceive the team–along with fans–for personal gain too. It could wind up costing a team millions of dollars in future revenue if it turned out he was involved in the hoax.
On the other hand, Te’o not having any knowledge of the scandal has unfortunately called his intelligence into question. We’re all aware that he is capable of understanding and reading offenses, but it gets a lot more complicated in the NFL, and if Te’o turns out to be a bust it will cost the Bengals millions of dollars in future ticket/merchandise sales, as well as the cost of his contract and who they potentially gave up by choosing to draft him.
Physically there are currently some questions too. Te’o had a poor performance at the combine, running a 4.81 40-yard dash, and not being able to bench because of a ‘Stinger’ in his shoulder meant he couldn’t make it up. In order to be taken seriously at the Combine, Te’o would have realistically needed to break 4.75. This would have gone a long way to show coaches that he is a 3 down linebacker.
Manti Te’o will have a chance to redeem himself on March 26th at his pro day, where he predicted to The Chicago Tribune, “Obviously, I’ll run a faster 40.” He attributed his poor performance to the stress of the interviews and the lack of sleep he got that week, adding, “The only way from here, is up.”
Rewards behind drafting Manti Te’o
If we are to forget his BCS appearance and go on his senior year performance, Te’o could highly reward any team willing to risk their necks to take him. Te’o’s incredible 155 tackle, 7 interception performance over 12 games earned him nine national awards last season, including the Lombardi award and the Walter Camp Award. He was also a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, eventually coming in second place.
Te’o certainly has the stats and the trophies to prove that he is one of the country’s top 3-down linebackers, and if the Bengals are willing to risk the first pick on him, it seems to me that there is only a small chance that it would go badly.