There is going to be plenty of talk about Manti Te’o for the next couple months. Like it or not he has become one of the top stories of the draft. The media have seized on this guy like a pack of wolves going after a slab of beef. And none of this has anything to do with his football ability. It’s all because of the nonsense with the fake girlfriend. It’s all background BS. Just like Tim Tebow. Football is actually irrelevant to most of the discussion.
I personally would love to stay out of all the Te’o discussion. I’d happily leave all Te’o conversation to the Twitter freaks and ESPN talking heads. But sadly I’m not going to have that luxury. Because like it or not, the Vikings are becoming central to the whole Te’o story. Speculation is already ramping up that the Vikings might be interested in drafting Te’o. And that specultion will only get hotter as we near the draft.
But why the Vikings? There are multiple reasons. First, the Vikes are drafting in a spot where Te’o might realistically go. If they were picking in the top 10 this wouldn’t be an issue. But #23 is prime Te’o speculation real estate. Before his little problems, Te’o was probably set to be a top 15 pick, but he has tumbled into that late 1st/early 2nd range.
Second, everyone knows the Vikings need to upgrade their linebacker talent. Te’o is probably the top middle linebacker prospect in the draft outside of LSU’s Kevin Minter. So it makes sense he would be on their radar screens.
And the third point. This was brought up by Tom Pelissero among others. The Vikings already have a couple guys on their roster who played with Te’o. Harrison Smith and Robert Blanton were Te’o's teammates on the Notre Dame defense and they remain his friends. Those guys can vouch for Te’o. They can give plenty of information about what kind of locker room guy he is.
If you’re worried about Te’o struggling to handle all the pressure that will surely be placed on him – fairly and unfairly – once he enters the league, you can argue that the Vikes are in a great position to help him out, because he already has friends on the team. Having buddies in the locker room might help smooth what would otherwise be a rough transition to life in pro football. Those guys’ presence might help tamp down some of the razzing Te’o would otherwise face from his new pro teammates.
All the above will be brought up over-and-over from here until the draft. These points will be made again-and-again as part of the argument for taking Te’o. But you can make a pretty compelling argument against taking Te’o as well. And this argument actually has little to do with the outside football stuff that has taken over the conversation.
Personally, I don’t care about the fake girlfriend and the rest of it. I don’t think the guy’s character or intelligence necessarily should come under fire because of the incident. When you think about all the dumb things guys do in college, getting duped by some charlatans and then lying about it out of embarrassment…well, that’s pretty far down the line in terms of severity.
The guy doesn’t deserve to get crucified for the stuff that happened. But the fact remains that Te’o is a story because of the fake girlfriend incident. And the media are going to harp on that as long as they think the story still has legs. It will be brought up a ton on draft day. And the team that drafts Te’o will have to answer a ton of questions about him. It will be a distraction the same way the Tebow circus is a distraction.
You have to ask yourself, do you really want to subject yourself to that circus atmosphere? Do you really want the media hanging around asking other players a bunch of questions because of this one guy who did this one thing and has now become a story?
I personally would want nothing to do with it. I certainly wouldn’t want anything to do with it if I was Leslie Frazier. Frazier was there for the Favre circus. He knows how that stuff can get in the way. You think he wants to put up with all that extra, completely ridiculous media scrutiny?
Trust me, the Vikings have no interest in inviting the circus. They know better than almost any organization how that stuff wears on the players and coaches. And that’s why I believe Te’o will ultimately not be in the picture for this team. They will weigh Te’o's potential value as a player against the extra crap he will bring down on them and decide it’s not worth it.
The value aspect is the other side of this argument. Three months ago Te’o was thought of as a top 10 prospect. Then the Alabama game happened. Te’o got exposed in a lot of areas in that game. His coverage and his tackling are now suspect. Of course you can say that was only one game, but that was the biggest game of his life, both in pressure and level of competition. And he got totally flattened.
I personally think Te’o was overhyped all along. Is he a good player? Yes. But was he ever truly a Heisman-worthy player or was that just a snowball effect of hype? Did he become overvalued as a player because of his backstory – which turned out to be largely baloney – and the mythic status of Notre Dame in the eyes of old, crusty sportswriters?
Certainly Te’o is a talented player. He is worthy of being drafted. He may even be worthy of the #23 overall pick when you look at him purely as a player. But when you add the extra crap that comes with Te’o, is he still worth the #23 overall pick? I don’t believe he is. I believe the Vikings should pass on Te’o. And if he comes up in the second round – which he won’t, but let’s imagine for the sake of argument – I think they should pass on him again.
Only way I would take Te’o if I’m the Vikings is if he slides way down into the sixth round. Then I say what the hell, let’s take a chance. But that’s not going to happen. Te’o will still probably be a first round pick. He will almost certainly not get past the first half of the second. Someone will take him. That’s fine with me, as long as that team is not the Vikings.
If you’re going to invite the circus, it had better be for a potentially transformational player. Te’o is not that. He is not Urlacher. He is a middle linebacker version of Chad Greenway. He may actually not even be as good as Greenway. Sorry but, if I’m going to put up with all the baggage, I need something more than Golden Domer Greenway.