Manti Te'o is still a solid first-round prospect.
No story is more bizarre than that of Manti Te'o and his fake girlfriend, but the Notre Dame linebacker shouldn't see his draft stock plummet because of it.
While the unique nature of the story will certainly lead to some interesting questions from NFL teams, the game tape speaks for itself. Te'o's four-year career at Notre Dame included 437 tackles, 8.5 sacks, seven interceptions and 17 passes defended.
Sure, this situation could cause some issues in the locker room, but should it affect where he goes on draft day?
Let's take a look at five reasons why Te'o's draft stock will be unaffected by this bizarre story.
Te'o exhibited impeccable character during his time at Notre Dame.
Let's get this straight, folks. Manti Te'o hasn't been and isn't a troublemaker.
Whatever his culpability is in this bizarre saga, the heart and soul of the Fighting Irish defense exhibited impeccable character during his four-year career.
Before this story broke, Te'o was everything that was right about college football. The 6'2", 255-pound middle linebacker could have entered the 2012 NFL draft but opted to return to South Bend for his senior season. All he did was lead Notre Dame to the BCS National Championship, although the Fighting Irish were demolished by Alabama.
Sure, this situation looks bad. But is he a bad guy?
Adam Jones is the poster child for off-field issues.
If people want to knock Manti Te'o for having a fake girlfriend, just take a look at some of the bad boys in the NFL.
Start with Adam "Pacman" Jones for instance.
The former Tennessee Titans first-round pick has managed to shed the Pacman label in recent years, but he can't run away from his checkered past. After making a splash as a dynamic corner and returner, Jones became such a headache to the league and the police that commissioner Roger Goodell suspended him for an entire season.
Elsewhere around the league, we have a guy who shot himself in the leg in a night club (Plaxico Burress), a guy who's fathered so many kids he couldn't even recall their names (Antonio Cromartie) and a player who fell out of the first round because he couldn't stay away from marijuana (Janoris Jenkins).
So how much can we fault a guy—guilty or not—for having a fake, online girlfriend?
It's easy to make snap judgements about this bizarre story, but we simply don't know enough to really make a decision about Te'o's draft stock.
Deadspin broke the story on Jan. 16 and the sports world went nuts.
Did the All-American linebacker fabricate Lennay Kekua? Or was he the victim of a heartless hoax?
Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey did a fantastic job reporting the story, but without hearing Te'o's version of the account, we couldn't really formulate a clear opinion.
After much speculation, Te'o sat down with ESPN's Jeremy Schaap last Friday and admitted that he deceived his family and the press about the extent of his online relationship. However, the linebacker claimed he didn't have anything to do with creating the story.
To top it off, Te'o's friend, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, reportedly admitted to engineering the hoax to a friend back in December.
My head's just spinning trying to piece this story together. Until we can definitively say what happened and who was involved in what capacity, Te'o's draft stock shouldn't be adversely affected.
Bengals right tackle Andre Smith was arrested for bringing a loaded gun into an airport.
You can fault Manti Te'o for deceiving the media.
You can fault him for deceiving fans.
What you can't do is call him a criminal.
Despite the gravity and uniqueness of the situation, Te'o hasn't done anything illegal. The same can't be said about many NFL bad boys.
Bart Hubbuch of the New York Post spoke with an NFC personnel executive who cautioned against making any quick judgements about Te'o and his draft stock.
Guys who have done much worse than [Te’o] get drafted all the time in this league,” an NFC personnel executive told The Post. “We don’t even know yet if he did anything wrong, so it’s still way too early to tell what this is going to do to [his draft positioning].
In a league with drug abusers, PED users or a guy who carried a gun into an airport, the fact that Te'o didn't violate any criminal laws makes this case unique. Ethically it may be wrong, but legally it isn't. As such, his draft stock should remain unaffected.
At the end of the day, the eye in the sky doesn't lie.
Speaking strictly from an X's and O's standpoint, the kid can ball.
Although the national championship game turned out to be a nightmare for both Te'o and the Fighting Irish, the former 5-star recruit met and exceeded expectations at Notre Dame. The rock-solid middle linebacker helped turn around the program and led the Fighting Irish to an undefeated regular season.
And while Alabama exposed his lack of elite speed—and wrap-up tackling for that matter—Te'o's game tape looks like that of a first-rounder.
A big hitter who also snagged seven interceptions in 2012, Te'o has the on-field intelligence, physicality and experience to succeed at the next level. He certainly isn't a top-10 pick, but he's a first-round talent—hoax or not.