If NFL hopefuls are under the magnifying glass this week, Manti Te’o is under the microscope. Fair or not, he’s the hottest topic in Indianapolis.
The NFL Scouting Combine is an opportunity for prospects to impress talent evaluators in an attempt to improve their draft stock. With the offseason issues that Te’o has been dealing with (and a national title game to forget), the embattled linebacker really needed to put on a show.
Te’o’s performance on Monday was underwhelming, but contrary to some of the opinions floating around about the linebacker’s draft stock, he really didn’t hurt himself all that badly.
With all the scrutiny Te’o has experienced, doing something special at the combine was the best way for him to prove he is worthy of first-round consideration in April. People wanted to see him put on a show, and to the disappointment of many, he was just average.
Perhaps “average” isn’t what NFL talent evaluators were hoping to see from Te’o, but as is the case with so many top prospects every year, not blowing away the competition was enough to justify negative beliefs of his on-field potential.
In reality, no one really expected Te’o to run a 4.40 40-yard dash or hammer out 40 bench press reps. The tape doesn’t lie. Te’o isn’t an exceptional athlete, and he shouldn’t have been expected to stun everyone with a massive performance in Indianapolis.
Te’o ran a 4.82 40-yard dash; it wasn’t a great time, but it wasn’t far from what was expected of him. His 4.27-second 20-yard shuttle time was sixth among linebackers, as was his 7.13-second performance in the three-cone drill.
What evaluators got from Te’o was a solid performance that didn’t shatter any records. He did enough to prove he is exactly what many expect him to be in the NFL—a run-stuffing linebacker with just enough quickness and agility to be serviceable in coverage at the position.
Former general managers Mike Tannenbaum and Scott Pioli weighed in on the NFL Network following his performance. Neither felt Te'o performed well short of expectations.
Te’o is a football player. Like many before him, he didn’t turn in a workout that will launch him back into the top-five discussion. Teams already know (from film and interviews) what kind of player they will be getting if they select him in April.
The biggest problem with Te’o's combine performance is this: Everyone wanted a reason to move him back up their rankings.
As unfair as it is, the scandal that captivated so many in recent months was reason to doubt a player previously regarded as one of the best in this draft class. Off-field issues like the one Te’o encountered shouldn’t demolish a player’s draft stock, and people know that. Everyone wanted him to take to the field in Indianapolis and give us all a reason to once against become enamored with his pro potential.
In the end, Te’o’s performance in team interviews and psychological evaluations will have more of an impact on his draft stock than anything else. Scouts and general managers know what to expect from him on the field, and a subpar combine performance won’t change that.
In the end, Te'o still has the potential to be a top-20 pick on draft day. He could fall into the final third of the first round, but that was already the expectation heading into the combine. He may not carry top-five value anymore, but don't expect him to slide out of the first round.