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In a blissful utopian society in which we could eat copious amounts of ice cream without feeling pain (yes, that’s the first thing I think of while imagining the perfect world…what of it?), the young, aspiring football players of our universe would be judged almost solely by their play and on-field production, with the content of their character a lesser concern that’s far in the background.

But our brave new world is littered with immensely talented yet deeply flawed characters who are seeking NFL employment. Mostly, these flaws come in criminal form. A year ago we were planting figurative red flags in Janoris Jenkins, which led to his plummeting draft stock. Then all he did was form one of the league’s best young cornerback tandems in St. Louis alongside Cortland Finnegan, and he finished with four interceptions, three of which resulted in pick sixes.

Then there’s the always creative combination of legal battles and general douchebaggery which has been pioneered by Titus Young, who was selected as an early second-round pick by the Lions in 2011, and he’s since been jettisoned after multiple incidents both on and off the field. Following that, a trial run with the Rams lasted, oh, nine days.

Manti Te’o doesn’t have a record that’s buried somewhere in a legal binder. He’s not a jerk, and is in fact just the opposite. Maybe too much the opposite, actually, as even though he’s not a punk, he got punked. In the eyes of draft evaluators, that still carries significant baggage, which is why while Te’o's request to be judged solely by his on-field play and not his fake dead girlfriend when the Scouting Combine begins Wednesday is quite reasonable and logical, it won’t happen.

That’s what Te’o told USA Today in one of his few interviews since his bizarre catfishing story surfaced last month. Prior to the Deadspin story that revealed his love interest that was actually a Twitter account (which in turn was actually a man), the Notre Dame middle linebacker was widely projected as a late first-round pick in April’s draft. If that projection falls, Te’o thinks it should be because he stumbles either this week, or at any time throughout the next two months. The legend of Lennay Kekua should have no bearing.

From USA Today:

“I have to just go out there and perform and all that other stuff is behind me. What I did on the field is what I did on the field. I don’t think what I did with this whole situation, I don’t understand how it takes away from what I did on the field.

“As far as my stock dropping or rising, that’s not up to me. The only thing I have to do is just do well, run fast, just be myself, be quick.”

He’s right, or at least he should be. Over his four years at Notre Dame Te’o recorded 437 tackles, 34 of which were for a loss. Taking that further, he had two seasons with more than 120 tackles, and during his senior year he finished with seven interceptions, which led to Heisman consideration (he was a runner-up). That’s only the surface for draft evaluators, as they can look at those numbers, and Te’o's tape, and his measurables this week, and determine that yes, he’s a fine investment if they’re shopping for an inside linebacker.

And hopefully that happens. But the concern surrounding Te’o will lie in something that can’t be measured as easily: mental fragility. While his criminal record may be clean unlike Young and Jenkins above, a fragile mind is what he has in common with them. At his position — a position that anchors the defense — that’s potentially damning.

Not enough to cause a catastrophic plummet. But it’s quite possible that Te’o could experience a tumble sizable enough that some executives will be filled with glee after snatching their sweet second-round discount on a player who’s easily first-round worthy.

And now the links part of the links post…

  • Oh and about questionable character that leads to poor decisions, I give you Da’Quan Bowers. [Mike Garafolo]
  • Darrelle Revis isn’t happy with the trade talks that surround him, and he’s pointing a mean finger at Woody Johnson. [CBS]
  • Is it too early to think about 2013 fantasy quarterback draft strategy? No, no it isn’t. [J.J. Zachariason]
  • Someone should probably tell Donovan McNabb that Danica Patrick hasn’t won the Daytona 500 yet. [Awful Announcing]
  • The Chiefs still have no idea what they’re doing with the top pick. [KC Star]

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