Scandals. Lies. Fake girlfriends. Fake deaths.
Amid a scandal unlike anything we’ve ever seen in college football, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o has a lot on his mind, and at least one of those things is the upcoming 2013 NFL draft.
A one-time lock as a first-round pick, Te’o now faces intense scrutiny from NFL front offices that are infamous for their background checks. What has the "Catfish" scandal done to the Heisman candidate’s draft stock?
Before the story broke, I had Te’o as a mid-first-round pick. Now, it’s likely that a scandal of this proportion will indeed drive his stock down.
Based on conversations I’ve had in the last 24 hours with NFL personnel, a conservative estimate will be that Te’o falls one full round. That puts him closer to the middle of Round 2.
We’re used to NFL draft prospects having baggage, but it’s usually arrests or family issues. This is unprecedented, and you can bet it will affect Te’o’s stock negatively.
In speaking with one NFL player this morning, he told me, “(I) don’t think the casual or even hard-core draft people understand how big this is. Could be devastating. Like worse than finding injury/illness.”
That’s the general consensus among NFL people today—that Te’o (guilty or not of creating the hoax) will see tough questioning and cynicism from general managers.
There is, of course, the flip side to this. NFL teams will draft kids with arrest records longer than my arm. But a player who may or may not have invented a person and then killed them off—who knows how that will play in the media and in the locker room?
The good news for Te’o is that this story broke when it did. He has time to rehabilitate his image, and time to prepare for the questioning that he’ll face from NFL teams and the media at the scouting combine.
As with any player, each team will view Te'o differently; but consider what one NFL team executive told me before the Deadspin story broke: “We had Te’o graded higher due to intangibles. You love his story and his ability to play through it.”
Those famous Te’o intangibles are now forgotten.
The big question that still needs to be answered before accurately determining what type of hit Te’o’s stock has taken is: How involved was he in the hoax? As many have questioned, was Te’o a co-creator of the fictional girlfriend and her death?
Until we know the answer to that question, all we can do is speculate on what NFL teams will think of Manti Te’o when he walks in and out of their interview room at the NFL Scouting Combine in late February—but early indications aren’t good for Te’o.
Te’o either committed fraud or was fooled quite easily by unknown perpetrators. One is definitely worse than the other, but NFL teams will no doubt be concerned either way.
The decision NFL teams will face when their pick is on the clock will be based on whether they believe the tale Te’o is putting out, and if they want that type of player on their team.