Manti Te’o will have to blow NFL personnel away at the 2013 Scouting Combine on and off the field in order to salvage his draft stock.
It certainly isn’t looking good for the former senior Notre Dame linebacker and projected first-round pick.
Te’o is coming off of a poor performance during the Fighting Irish’s embarrassing loss to Alabama in the BCS Championship Game. He looked overpowered and outclassed by the NFL-bound linemen of the Crimson Tide.
Sports Illustrated’s Peter King called his performance on that huge stage “awful.”
To make matters worse, he was subsequently the focal point of national media and social media after an internet hoax rocked his life.
Te’o has been working hard in his preparation for the combine, missing just one day at Chris Weinke’s IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. (according to ESPN’s Pat Yasinskas).
That lone hiccup came when Te’o left camp to do an interview with Katie Couric. The interview aimed to provide damage control to his image after the country sat back in awe in the wake of a tragic and life-altering disclosure about his personal life.
Most players will have scouts and executives dissecting their character and athletic ability at the combine, but none will have the level of scrutiny that Te’o receives.
Is that right? Maybe. Te’o didn’t break rules, get suspended or do anything to question the quality of his character. He was tricked by Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, a 22-year-old male who claimed to be a woman “deeply and romantically in love” with him.
Some even speculated Te’o might have been involved with perpetrating the entire thing as a means to draw attention to propel himself to a Heisman Trophy.
Trust, character and stability are some of the biggest things teams will look at while evaluating players during personal interviews this week in Indianapolis.
Te’o must convince them that he is all of those things and a top-tier player on the field. It’s a challenging mission but not “Mission Impossible” for one of the most decorated and talented linebackers in this class.
Tyler Eifert, his teammate at Notre Dame, has been training with him in Florida and had some further insight about his preparation (h/t Yasinskas):
"Manti has been the same Manti I went to college with...He's been out on the field working just like he's always worked. I've tried to be there for him, but I don't know that he's needed all that much help because he's such a strong person to begin with."
In the end, we all know the type of player Te'o can be on the field. Initial draft projections do typically change. That happens for many players, scandal or not.
Te'o, one of the most talented defensive prospects in this class, will rise above this and use his performance in Indianapolis, both on and off the field, to help teams remember that.