There is no question that come the NFL combine, Manti Te’o will have to answer to 32 NFL teams about all the recent developments regarding the fake girlfriend hoax. For now, lets put the Manti Te’o hoax to the side and assess his true draft stock.
Without question Manti Te’o is an exceptional talent. He developed into an all-American middle linebacker at Notre Dame after being highly touted in high school. Te’o received high marks in high school for his leadership ability and
character, so all the success Te’o enjoyed was largely expected. The hoax has called that character into question, but lets be clear that his physical attributes and play on the field has not changed and it is for this reason I don’t believe his draft stock has changed much if at all.
I don’t think Manti Te’o was ever going to be a top ten pick in the NFL draft and it has nothing to do with the girlfriend hoax. Te’o is an instinctive middle linebacker but he’s not exactly the biggest or the fastest. For those reasons alone, I don’t see any front offices taking a gamble on him with a top 10 or 15 pick, not to mention middle linebackers don’t generally go in the top 15 to begin with.
Te’o fits into 4-3 schemes because of his instinctive ability to make tackles between the hash marks and that is why he’s definitely a first round talent and the NFL draft’s best second level defender. Scout.com rates Te’o as the 7th overall prospect while ESPN “gurus” Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Jr. have Te’o landing in Buffalo with the 8th overall selection, but he’s not fast enough. At 6’1 and 248lbs, numbers won’t lie at the combine and unless Te’o magically increases his speed and bulks up, he could realistically drop to into the low 20s. None of this even includes the character issues now in question post hoax.
From my understanding, its the felony history of college football players that cause their draft stock to plummet (drugs, legal issues, abuse, etc.) with front offices, but then again the Te’o “catfish” hoax is the first issue of its kind. Even if
Te’o is able to convince all 32 NFL teams he is still a man of high character and does not pose a risk to any NFL locker room or organization.
All that said, I argue that former Heisman Trophy runner up is still a presumed first round selection in April, but his draft stock was already sinking even before the hoax. Our last memory of Te’o on the field was a horrendous performance against Alabama in the BCS championship game. Under the lights, on the national stage, it was as if Te’o wasn’t even there. What was pushing Te’o up scouting boards was the leadership, the character, the integrity, the story. All of that is now in question.
Click here to see what NFL front office folks are saying about Te’o's draft stock, courtesy of Sports Illustrated.