Manti Te'o (Matt Cashore/USA Today)
Despite the on- and off-field concerns with Manti Te’o, he should be the Vikings’ pick if he’s available. Four years of good film is too much to ignore over one bad game and an Internet duping.
Over the course of the last two months, I’ve tried to make the case that the Vikings should draft Manti Te'o. I have met significant resistance from those whose draft acumen I trust and respect. I say “yes” once and hear “no, no, no” as a response.
The biggest Te’o negative to me isn’t the “hoax girlfriend,” although a star football player at a football powerhouse shouldn’t need the Internet to find chicks. Any opportunistic, unattached college student should find the cyberspace girlfriend story troubling.
However, more troubling to me was the film of the BSC Championship Game. It was brutal. Te’o especially was exposed – not for his role in the hoax, but for his role in the beat-down that Alabama put on Notre Dame. With every coach, scout and fan watching, Te’o got routinely abused by a game plan devised to make him look bad. Mission accomplished.
The combination of the phantom girlfriend and the title game debacle has not only taken the shine off of Te’o, but it’s turned him into a punch line for sports talking heads that go for the cheap laugh.
I’ve gone along with the rhetoric this long because, as already explained, the circumstances of Te’o being either complicit in a hoax or so easily duped by strangers is hard to rationalize. But Te’o’s game film doesn’t lie.
He was as dominant a player as college football has produced. Don’t take my word for it. Take it from the voting panels of the numerous awards handed out to college football’s elite players. What awards did Te’o win last year? Try the Nagurski (top defensive player), Bednarik (Defensive Player of the Year), Lombardi (best lineman or linebacker), Butkus (top linebacker) and Walter Camp National Player of the Year – while also finishing second in the Heisman Trophy balloting. The guy who built his trophy case is now slightly hunchbacked. Gone With the Wind didn’t sweep up awards like Te’o.
Yet, all that is forgotten. It may be time to ease up on pouring out the 40 on Te’o’s NFL grave. The tide may be changing.
While several mock drafts have associated Te’o with the Bears at No. 20 – to be honest, could Brian Urlacher have been slower? – if Te’o if available when the Vikings are on the clock, I’m once again convinced they will take him. They have interviewed him, brought him in for a visit and now dined with him before his pro day, according to Sports Illustrated.
The market for Te’o is limited. Teams stocked at middle/inside linebacker are going elsewhere. Teams with more pressing needs are going elsewhere. Teams with decision-makers who never had a problem getting girlfriends they could see are going elsewhere.
I hear the downside. I saw it when Nick Saban made a point to devise a game plan to attack him. It worked really, really well.
But do you dismiss four years of being as dominant a college player as Te’o was – complete with a trophy case Steven Spielberg would envy?
I’m going on record: if Te’o is available at No. 23, Rick Spielman will take him. History will be the final judge, but, given his penchant for drafting Notre Dame players – John Sullivan, Kyle Rudolph, Harrison Smith and Robert Blanton already know the words to the fight song – I’m preparing myself for the reality. If he’s on the board, Te’o is a Viking … and the fan base won’t be sorry. If you’re a Te’o hater, don’t buy the jersey – which is being released in puzzle fashion. But get used to it. Te’o ends up in the NFC North – either to the Bears at No. 20, the Vikings at No. 23 or the Packers if they swing a trade at Nos. 21 or 22. Given the regional hatred among the franchises, that would be the sweet-and-sour irony of the situation.
In the days leading up to the draft, the pro-Te’o message is going to get out. As things currently stand, the question is whether the Vikings will pass on Te’o. As things will stand in 10 days, the Vikings will have to make the decision whether or not to draft Te’o.
Don’t bet against it if he’s still there.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.