Manti Te'o, Baltimore Ravens: NFL Draft Match Made in Heaven
USA TODAY Sports
Manti Te'o and his infamous "girlfriend" was a twisted story but is now simply old news.
However, a hot topic surrounding the former Heisman finalist leading up to the NFL Draft is which organization will still feel comfortable drafting the Irish linebacker in the first round?
It's a valid question, sure to be heavily debated among network analysts until April 25.
Analysts can slice and dice the situation until Kansas City makes the first pick in the draft, but there is one NFL team that would be an absolute perfect match for the much-maligned Te'o.
What team now has a glaring hole in the middle of its defense?
Which organization is all too familiar with player controversy off the field?
The XLVII Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens.
With the No. 26 overall pick in the 1996 NFL Draft, the Ravens selected Miami Hurricane LB Ray Lewis.
As a college player at Miami, Lewis really created no stories away from football. Instead, he made his mark on the field. In only two full seasons before turning pro, Lewis twice earned honors as an All-American, while also finishing as runner-up for the Butkus Award in 1995.
However, after a couple of years in the NFL, Ray Lewis' life suddenly took a turn for the worse in 2000. CNN's Ed Lavandera and Michael Pearson described the night Lewis' life forever changed,
Ray Lewis overcame a troubled past to become a champion. (courtesy: ESPN)
On January 31, 2000, hours after watching the St. Louis Rams beat the Tennessee Titans in the Super Bowl, Lewis and a few friends were out at the Cobalt Lounge in Atlanta's Buckhead Village celebrating football's biggest night. As they left, around 4 a.m., a fight erupted. It's unclear who started the fight, but it became an all-out brawl when Baker smashed a champagne bottle over the head of Reginald Oakley, a friend of Lewis'. What else happened during those pivotal moments remains something of a mystery. How did the fight start? Why? And who killed Baker and his friend, Richard Lollar? To this day, even one of the men arrested that night says he's still not entirely clear on what happened. What is clear is that, within minutes, Baker and Lollar lay dead in the street as Lewis and his friends raced away in a limousine.
In the matter of one night, Ray Lewis' life was turned upside down. In a saga that seemed to last forever, Lewis ultimately agreed to a plea bargain (misdemeanor obstruction of justice and 12 months probation) in exchange for his testimony.
Additionally, the NFL fined him $250,000.
After dodging a potential life-sentence in prison, Ray Lewis took advantage of every second chance offered to him in life, and just a year later, the former Hurricane took home Super Bowl MVP honors, when the Ravens won Super Bowl XXXV.
The linebacker great also wanted to make a difference away from football. As a result, Lewis became a sort of traveling reverend, willing to speak about his faith wherever he could spread his message.
He learned from his mistakes and wanted to make a difference.
Sports Illustrated's S.L. Price quoted Lewis as telling churchgoers, "God has done something in my life--and not just for me to see it. God has done something in my life for ev-ery hat-er, ev-ery enemy."
Lewis no doubt remains a controversial figure today, but even his cynics can't deny the passion in which he has thrown himself at every opportunity to become better, on and off the field.
If not for the Baltimore Ravens welcoming Lewis back after being vindicated of murder charges, "Reverend Ray" may have never turned out to be the athlete and individual he is today.
After closing out his retirement tour in 2012 with another Super Bowl ring, Lewis has played his last game for Baltimore.
To help fill the void at linebacker, John Harbaugh and the Raven front office should pick a player similar to the linebacker they chose with pick No. 26 in the 1996 NFL Draft: Manti Te'o.
It would be a risky pick—no doubt about it—but it would be a selection that would be mutually beneficial for both parties over the long haul.
Te'o certainly didn't look like the player he was all season in the BCS National Championship Game, but there's good reason to believe his head may have been other places.
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
While the off-the-field challenges of Lewis and Te'o were extremely different and occurred at opposite times in each of the players' careers, both men faced the same type of human adversity: crushed public images.
The character of the two men was openly questioned.
Could two former athletes with near squeaky clean images ever recover in the eye of the public?
Better yet, how many NFL teams would feel comfortable having the players and their baggage associated with their clubs?
Baltimore gave Lewis a chance at redemption, and he came through in glowing fashion.
As Raven scouts attend the NFL combine to study prospects, they're sure to take a good look at Te'o. Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun suggested,
"Should Notre Dame inside linebacker Manti Te'o or Georgia inside linebacker Alec Ogletree plummet to the Ravens' 32nd overall draft pick of the first round in late April, NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock thinks the Super Bowl champions would bolt into a speedy 40-yard dash to select either coveted defender."
If given a true chance with the right organization, Te'o could have a special NFL career.
A 6'2'', 255-pound inside linebacker, Te'o has a similar build to the 6'1'', 240-pound Ray Lewis.
In terms of statistics during their junior seasons in college, the similarities continue.
Manti recorded 128 tackles and 13.5 tackles for a loss, while Ray compiled 160 tackles and eight tackles for a loss. Further, both college standouts finished as runners-up for the Butkus Award the year before entering the NFL Draft.
The obvious difference between the two out of school: Te'o's character as a prospect.
So, will Baltimore snag Manti Te'o with pick No. 32 or trade up and grab him earlier in the draft?
With a solid linebacker corps including Georgia's Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree, LSU's Kevin Minter and Kansas State's Arthur Brown, there's a very good chance that Te'o slides to the late first round, where Baltimore could make the selection.
It could be a match made in heaven for both Manti Te'o and the Ravens.
Now let's see what happens.
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