Clearly there are a lot of questions that need to be answered, but I thought it would be worth breaking down where Manti Te’o currently stands in the NFL Draft process. Here are just a few quick thoughts on what he can expect to encounter and how this story may impact his draft stock.
- For starters, I have to wonder if this influenced Te’o's decision to skip the Senior Bowl. Since he came forward to Notre Dame about the fake girlfriend on December 26, it’s safe to assume he knew the media would eventually get their hands on it. It’s possible he didn’t want to expose himself to their questions so soon after the story broke.
- Te’o won’t be able to avoid questions from NFL teams, however. The combine in late February is going to be a miserable experience for him. NFL teams grill players over the tiniest mistakes they have made – even players with little or no serious character concerns in their past. Many teams have a coach or someone working in the front office who is capable of playing the “bad cop” in these interviews and you can bet Te’o will get their best shot in Indy.
- Even if teams chose to believe Te’o's side of the story, he will still get grilled about having an online “girlfriend” whom he never met. That’s a difficult concept for most of us to grasp, and I’m sure there are more than a few old school NFL coaches who can’t even fathom the idea. They will want Te’o to explain every last detail about how it happened so that they can better understand him as a person. Teams routinely ask players about their relationships, so this won’t be an unusual line of questioning. But the answers Te’o gives will certainly be interesting.
- I would not be surprised if some teams remove Te’o from their draft board if his responses to their questions aren’t satisfactory. Te’o's released statement already doesn’t match up with things he has said in the past. If he fails to clear things up some teams may simply not trust him.
- Te’o is not an elite prospect, which is why teams may hold this against him. Teams are always willing to be more forgiving of a player with elite physical skills, but Te’o is a fringe first-round prospect with questions about his weight and athleticism. When a player already has concerns, teams tend to look for any excuse to drop them further down the draft board.
- Additionally, a major plus in Te’o's scouting report was his intelligence and leadership. This story raises some concerns about the type of person he is – regardless of whether or not he was in on the hoax. NFL teams spend hours evaluating the personality of the players they are about to invest millions of dollars in on draft day. And teams have a profile of the type of person who typically succeeds at the next level. Having a year-long relationship with an online girlfriend who he had never met does not factor into that profile. Whether it’s fair or not, linebackers are supposed to be loud, confident, type-A personalities. Some teams will definitely look past this issue, but don’t underestimate the old-school mentality that still exists in many NFL locker rooms and front offices. There will be teams who are concerned with Te’o's ability to fit in and be a leader.