This isn’t intended to be a smearing attack. No, the intention here is to reflect back on last night, and review something that we should have been well aware of with one of the draft’s most polarizing players, especially during one of the most unpredictable and wayward drafts in recent memory.
I don’t know Manti Te’o personally, though I’m sure he’s a nice fellow. His fall out of the first round last night wasn’t entirely unexpected. In a draft filled with zany and randomness thus far, Te’o's tumble should only been greeted with, at best, mild surprise.
Let’s maintain some perspective on the unique events we witnessed last night and the flavor of this draft
It was the first time in league history that offensive linemen were taken with the first two picks. Quickly, the dominant theme of trench fighting and mauling emerged, along with one of hunter vs. protector. In the top ten, there were only two prospects selected (wide receiver Tavon Austin, and cornerback Dee Milliner) who don’t play on the line of scrimmage. All the rest were either offensive or defensive linemen, with the emphasis on the former increased when three of the top five picks were left tackles.
This was also a first round (and likely, a draft) when value was skewed, since after the top 10 there was little difference between players found in that area, and others available later on. That’s what contributed to E.J. Manuel’s abrupt rise, and Geno Smith’s resulting fall. It led to Sharrif Floyd’s spiral all the way to 23rd after he was projected to be a top three pick. And it gave us Travis Fredrick as a first-round pick, after Mike Mayock gave him a third-round grade.
Only one prospect was drafted at Te’o's position, and Alec Ogletree waited until the 30th overall pick. Naturally then, when arguably the second best prospect at said position is Te’o, the first round became a reaching possibility fast. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Nothing at all.
There will be whispers, or worse, loud uproarious laughter with awesome comedians saying things about a fake dead girlfriend, and how that caused Te’o's fall from the good graces of first-round glory. That is, quite frankly, the worst kind of unintelligent narrative creation.
Teams either don’t care about such matters, or give them only a shred of thought. If a front office has a high grade on Te’o and he’s available, they certainly don’t care enough to pass on a player they believe in — and most importantly, someone who will help them win football games — because of a salacious bit of poor youthful thinking.
Should I remind you now that nearly every year, teams draft players who are turds or potential turds, and they’ve been in real trouble after breaking real laws? A year ago on this day, the Rams made Janoris Jenkins an early pick in the second round (seventh pick on Day 2) after he was arrested three times throughout his college playing days, two for drug possession, and once after a fight. Sometime today or tomorrow, Tyrann Mathieu will be drafted after battling rather infamous drug problems. Oh, about that Ogletree guy who was selected ahead of Te’o: he was arrested on a DUI charge two days before the Scouting Combine.
No, teams often give so very few craps about off-field conduct on draft day, as further demonstrated by the Lions over the past few years and their repeated drafting of poor character prospects (Titus Young, Mikel Leshoure). Teams care about a player’s ability to help them win football games, and while Te’o can certainly do that, there were still serious lingering questions about his play, most of which came from Notre Dame’s BCS Championship game loss to Alabama.
That game was a serious problem, and one that Te’o wanted scouts and general managers to overlook, which is impossible. Two members of that Alabama offensive line were drafted last night (D.J. Fluker, Chance Warmack), and a third could follow tonight (center Barrett Jones). Scouts told Mike Freeman from CBS Sports that the Alabama tape eventually sunk Te’o's first-round aspirations:
“He can be groomed and the speed can be slightly improved,” said one scout, “but that Alabama tape doomed him (from being drafted in first round) and look at where all of those Alabama players were drafted (on Thursday).”
Translation: there were three consecutive Alabama players drafted in the first round, the first time three players from one school were drafted consecutively in the first. The league clearly values Nick Saban and the Alabama system and the fact Te’o got smoked against that team severely injured his stock, doing so more than teams were letting on prior to the draft.
“You can’t draft a guy in the first who gets blown out like that against the best competition,” said a second scout.
The Te’o forecasting and projecting was always widespread leading up to the draft. In one corner was Team First Round (much more powerful than any Belieber), who thought Te’o escaping the opening round was insanity. Early in April Mel Kiper said Te’o wouldn’t even make it to the Ravens at No. 32, and just yesterday NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport said the Vikings and Bears — two middle-linebacker needy teams, with Chicago at No. 20, and Minnesota originally at No. 23 and 25 — would fight for him.
Then there was Shutdown Corner’s Doug Farrar labeling Te’o the “worst kind of tweener“, and multiple scouts telling Yahoo’s Jason Cole that while he’s a fine linebacker, Te’o is a two-down player, and therefore not a first rounder. After studying Te’o's tape, our own Alen Dumonjic called him a “good prospect, but not a great prospect” while writing this:
Overall, he’s a good prospect at the linebacker position for the next level. He’s skilled in run defense — even though he struggled against Alabama (who didn’t?) — and is solid while defending the pass. He’s not a great athlete, but he’s worthy of first-round consideration based off of his skills.
He received that, and what all the above comments and projections add up to is a defender who was thought of as a potential late first-round pick, and he was often even mocked to the Ravens, the defending champs who held the very last pick in the opening round. He had that kind of grade throughout the draft process, so his fall is far short of shocking.
Now he looks like a prime target for either the Giants (picking 17th in the second round), or Bears (picking 18th) later on this evening, and that value feels just about right.