te'o-drill2

Notre Dame’s Pro Day is today, which means it’s yet another Manti Te’o day. We’ll watch and scrutinize every muscle fiber twitch, especially when those muscles are propelling him down a field as he runs 40 yards in a straight line.

Nearly a month ago to the day the middle linebacker posted a 40 time at the NFL Scouting Combine that was just the worst. John Harbaugh went and broke the Internet, while we all wondered if Leon Sandcastle would be drafted ahead of everyone’s favorite catfished former Irish star. A bad day was had by all, expect anyone with a keyboard.

Te’o's best Combine time was a 4.82, which was slower than an offensive lineman. Significantly slower too, as a few days prior Terron Armtead posted a 4.71. Te’o won all the lols.

Conveniently, we all seemed to forget that many middle linebackers who’ve sort of had some success in the NFL aren’t exactly burners. I listed them in a rant at the time, but to name a few recent ones again: Sean Lee, Brandon Spikes, and Pat Angerer. Te’o will never have blazing speed. He has sufficient speed, as instead he finds the ball carrier through field vision, instincts, and agility.

But anywho, for those who care he vowed to improve his 40 time today, saying at the Combine that the media distraction of the whole catfishing mess played a role in his preparation. He promised, and he delivered…

That’s nice, even if it’s still far from blazing (last year, Luke Kuechly posted times of 4.50 and 4.58). But it changes nothing, or almost nothing.

Maybe some of the fears about Te’o in coverage have been ever so slightly quieted. But it’s far more likely that Te’o's tape — that film thing that shows him, you know, playing football — continues to be the ultimate evaluation tool.

That tape says different things to different evaluators, which has resulted in scattered views on where Te’o will land in early mock drafts. He’ll come off the board early, but exactly how early? And will it be early enough to be a first-round pick? Those are cloudy questions.

Rotoworld’s Evan Silva just posted his first mock, and Te’o is excluded from the opening round. But both Charley Casserley (25th, to the Vikings) and Daniel Jeremiah (24th, to the Colts) at NFL.com have him slotted in on Day 1, while Mike Mayock also thinks he’s a first-round pick. A few weeks ago our own tape guru Alen Dumonjic watched a lot of Te’o chasing and tackling people, and he wrote many glowing words about his run defense, but followed that with these tepid words of warning about his coverage:

An area of Te’o’s game that has seen some criticism the last couple of years is his pass defense. He improved from his junior season to his senior year, but he still isn’t the most fluid of athletes, and he tends to be overly aggressive despite showing instincts that enable him to be around the ball frequently. He’s also better when the receiver is in front of him than behind him.

Dour Farrar’s words were much more damning, as he noted that even while defending the run, Te’o relies heavily on a strong defensive line to occupy blockers.

Does not consistently shed second-level blocks well, nor is he consistently able to peel off blocks at the line — a liability that presented itself before the BCS game against Alabama. Doesn’t always hit running lanes with the speed and force you’d expect from an elite inside linebacker prospect. Drops instinctively into coverage after reading pass, but generally takes half a tick to get moving back in space — that half a tick could cost him more in the NFL. Less fluid and more choppy when transitioning on the move. As a tackler, does a lot of diving and “guessing” — he doesn’t wrap up enough and will whiff on more tackles than he should.

See, different eyes can have different criticisms, and arrive at different conclusions. For Te’o, finding a set of NFL eyes that sees value in his skillset and is willing to make a first-round investment is much more important than any time posted today.