Manti Te’o was college football’s brightest star this season before flaming out during a blowout loss against Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game. The later revelation that the October death of the Notre Dame linebacker’s girlfriend was a hoax — because, in fact, she never existed — brought a different kind of national attention his way.
Last weekend, he faced hundreds of media and said what he hopes are his final words on the scandal reportedly perpetrated by a supposed friend. He was looking forward at that time to Monday’s on-field workouts and turning the conversation back toward football.
That, too, might have been a mistake.
Te’o clocked in officially at 4.82 seconds in the combine’s signature event — the 40-yard dash — re-igniting the doubts about his ability to play at the NFL level that were highlighted when he and his Fighting Irish teammates got rolled by the Crimson Tide.
The average time for inside linebackers at last year’s combine was 4.77. The top player taken in last year’s draft at that position — Boston College’s Luke Kuechly at No. 10 by the Carolina Panthers — clocked in at 4.58.
So what does all of this mean?
Most likely, not much.
The scouting consensus has been that Te’o probably was a little overrated early in the year when top-10 projections were floating around in the media. He came into Indianapolis as a late first-round prospect. And, by all accounts, he left Indianapolis on Monday as a late first-round prospect.
He could be on the board when the Colts pick at No. 24, but inside linebacker is one of the few positions with real depth on their roster.
Still, general manager Ryan Grigson’s words of caution Thursday about putting too much stock into combine performances seem appropriate here.
“(Ravens wide receiver) Anquan Boldin fell down draft boards because of the (40) times, speed,” Grigson said. “But at the beginning of the process, he was way up there. You’ve got to make note of that.”
Grigson said players shouldn’t be measured by how quickly they run or how high they jump in gym shorts in February. He grades players off their game tape and uses the combine as a tool to confirm his suspicions.
So what do Te’o’s tape and 40 time say about him? That’s the million-dollar question.
And, perhaps fittingly, it’s all going to come down to belief.
Te’o doesn’t necessarily have to convince NFL decision-makers he’s telling the truth when he says he simply was a victim in the girlfriend hoax. But he will have to convince them the Alabama tape is a fluke.
For now, all he has to offer are words. He must make some team believe in his intangibles.
“I think what I bring to the table is a lot of heart, a lot of energy and somebody who works hard,” Te’o said. “... For teams, I tell them, ‘You’ll always get somebody who’s humble, works hard, doesn’t say much and will do everything it takes to win.’”
George Bremer is a columnist for The Herald Bulletin in Anderson, Ind. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.