With his official NFL Combine workout still days away, Manti Te’o faced the media Saturday to answer question about, what else, the whole Lennay Kekua imbroglio. Now that he’s faced the music on that, now the real question can be asked: can this kid play?
Te’o has done the hard part. He fielded questions from a crowd of over 200 journalists about the “scandal” (there has to be a better word for it, right?) that has plagued him since being unearthed prior to this year’s National Championship Game. Said Te’o, “Hopefully after this, I’ve answered the things I need to answer … and we can move on with football.”
So let’s move on with football. Te’o has reportedly already met with the Houston Texans and Green Bay Packers in interviewing for the NFL Draft, and has plans to meet with 18 other teams. Questions about his character aside, there should be some serious questions about Te’o’s abilities as a football player.
While great on paper (prior to his actual workout at the Combine on March 26, Te’o is presently listed at 6’1″ 248 lbs on ESPN.com), teams have questions about his speed, most of which were brought up during Notre Dame’s dismantling in the BCS Championship Game at the hands of Alabama, who destroyed the Fighting Irish and made Te’o a non-factor. While Te’o is certainly big and strong enough to play in the NFL, without the speed to consistently get to the edge or backfield, not to mention the speed to keep up with NFL tight ends and running backs, he looks to be a mediocre NFL talent at best.
Keep in mind that Te’o only had 1.5 sacks last season against seven interceptions, cementing Te’o as a pass defense specialist at linebacker. But with a pre-Combine 40-yard dash time of 4.75 seconds, he’s too slow to keep up with most pass receivers at any position.
Between his lack of speed and pass rush ability, it’s hard to envision a system in which Te’o can succeed in the NFL. Here’s wishing him well, but it’s entirely likely that he will be the defensive version of Tim Tebow — just another athlete without a true specialty that will allow him to excel in the NFL.