Evaluators: Too early to know whether hoax situation will hurt Manti Te'o's NFL draft stock

Barring another bizarre twist, the biggest issue NFL draft evaluators may have in the tale of Manti Te'o's imaginary dead girlfriend is the extra work involved on his background check.

"You're going to have to know what's going on with this whole deal," said an NFC personnel man, one of three scouts and/or executives who would only address the situation on the condition that their names were withheld. "And you have to go way beyond what the Notre Dame people tell you or what the kid and his agent tell you. You have to know what you're dealing with."

But …

"At the end of the day, he's a good football player. As long as he and your team can deal with that first wave of publicity, you take him," the personnel man said in between chuckles that were equal parts weary and amused. "From everything I can tell, he's a good kid and a good player. He didn't hurt anybody. It's just weird. Really, really weird."

Among some NFL personnel people, Te'o is considered either the first- or second-best inside linebacker available in April's draft. That generally would put him somewhere around the middle of the first round, but hardly a lock to go that high.

"He's a good player, very smart and instinctive. At least when it comes to football," an AFC team executive said. "He'll come in and start for you, get a lot of tackles and do his job. You can win with guys like that and that's what matters."

What all three men cautioned is that Te'o's position and relative strength at that position may be far more of a determination of where he gets drafted than the odd story of a nonexistent girlfriend who supposedly died of cancer early in the season.

"That crazy stuff you heard earlier about him being a top-five pick, that was all hype. That's the TV, media, Notre Dame-driven hype," an NFC team scout said. "Inside linebackers, even great ones, don't go that high. Unless you're the next Dick Butkus or Ray Lewis and he's not that. He's not even as good as [New England inside linebacker] Jerod Mayo."

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Mayo was taken with the 10th overall pick in the 2008 draft. Lewis was the 26th selection in 1996, while Butkus was picked third in '65.

Over the past 10 years, A.J. Hawk of Green Bay is the highest drafted inside linebacker. Hawk went No. 5 in 2006 and has been deemed in some circles as a reach during his career.

Aside from Hawk, only three inside linebackers (Mayo, Luke Kuechly and Rolando McClain) over the past 10 drafts have gone in the top 10. The reason is that the position has become less important as more and more teams have gone to pass-oriented offenses.

"Look at Patrick Willis. He's probably the best inside linebacker in the league right now, at least over the past four years. As great as he is, you don't take him with a top-five pick," the AFC executive said. "Great football player, but I can find other guys who can do that job later in the draft."

[Related: Notre Dame AD: 'Incredible tragedy' | Statement about hoax]

That brings the point back to Te'o.

"Could he go at 11 or 12? Maybe. Could he go 20 or 25, maybe even out of the first round? Maybe," the NFC executive said. "We really haven't even started to set our board [for the draft], so I have no idea where he is for us. There are a lot of questions to be answered about a lot of people between now and then."

There just happens to be a lot more now with Te'o.

"The thing you wonder about is, what else is there to this story?" the NFC executive asked rhetorically. "Assuming this is the worst of it, it's not that big a deal. Weird? Yeah, really weird. But I've heard a lot of weird stories over the years about guys who became really good players."

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