The biggest issue with Manti Te'o's draft stock wasn't the catfishing hoax that made him a laughingstock. That obviously wasn't a positive, and there were questions NFL teams surely had to ask about it, but the NFL has happily drafted players who have done a lot worse things off the field.
It always comes down to this for NFL teams: Can you play? And based on what Te'o did against Alabama in the BCS Championship Game, that became a serious question. Against the best offensive line he had faced, the best comparison any NFL team could have to a line that looks like one it sees on Sundays, he disappeared. That was the biggest red flag. Scouts weren't breaking down Katie Couric's interview with Te'o; they were watching why he couldn't tackle Eddie Lacy.
Te'o's combine press conference got a lot of attention, but on Monday after most of the media had left Indianapolis, a far more damaging blow for Te'o happened when he was surprisingly slow in the 40-yard dash. He clocked unofficial times of 4.81 and 4.80 in the 40. There are 12 defensive linemen listed by NFL.com that ran at least a 4.81 in the 40. LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery, a 262-pound defensive end, ran a 4.81. Two 300-pound offensive linemen ran a shade better than 4.7 at the combine. Te'o was far from being fast, FARRRRRR from it.
The question now isn't if the bad 40 time hurts Te'o's draft stock, it's how much it does.
The 40-yard dash doesn't mean everything, but it's not insignificant either. If a team is going to draft Te'o in the first round it will be expecting a three-down linebacker, and this might prove he doesn't have the speed to defend in a passing league.
And, even though Te'o handled himself well in his combine press conference, the poor 40-yard dash is part of a pretty disappointing combine in the areas that matter for NFL teams.
He already measured just 6-foot-1, 241 pounds, much lighter than the 6-2, 255 pounds Notre Dame listed him at. That's one pound lighter than Georgia's Alec Ogletree, perhaps the top inside linebacker prospect because of his all-around athletic ability. Te'o was supposed to at least be a bit of an old-school thumper inside, but that doesn't seem to be the case anymore. Te'o also won't bench press because of a stinger in his right shoulder, which won't help.
Te'o has to hope now that teams fall in love with his non-Alabama film, which is superb, and he has a better workout on March 26 at Notre Dame's pro day.
Te'o has had a nightmare of an offseason. NFL teams won't go overboard with the girlfriend hoax stuff. But the startlingly slow 40 time will be written in red ink on the report.
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