It will be difficult for the Indianapolis Colts to dramatically move the needle in terms of fan excitement with the 24th pick in this year’s NFL draft. It’s a long way from last year when Andrew Luck energized the fan base as the No. 1 pick.
But one intriguing prospect might be available—if not to team management, then certainly to fans. It’s difficult to ignore that most draft prognosticators have picked Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o to go very near where the Colts are drafting in the first round.
Several draft analysts have Te’o going No. 25 to the Minnesota Vikings. Reports out of New York say Te’o’s stock is rising and he could go as high as No. 19 to the Giants.
The Colts cupboard isn’t bare of linebackers. But it isn’t chock full of stars, either. The Colts are mostly filling the inside linebacker position—where Te’o played his last three years at Notre Dame—with young players still trying to prove they can be consistent contributors.
Most draft analysts think the Colts will seek help on defense, but whether Colts General Manager Ryan Grigson and team owner Jim Irsay want to take a chance on Te’o remains to be seen. ESPN draft prognosticator Mel Kiper Jr. thinks Indianapolis will opt for Florida State cornerback Xavier Rhodes.
Grigson isn’t tipping his hand, but said that if he sees a guy on the board who could be a future starter—no matter the position—who could help the team win a championship, he’ll think hard about taking him. That would appear to leave the door open for Te’o.
Of course, there are concerns with the ND grad. His 40-yard dash time was less than spectacular and there are questions about whether he’ll hold up on the NFL gridiron. His performance in the national championship game against Alabama and its pro-style offense was awful.
Of course, there’s also the whole girlfriend hoax fiasco. Grigson would have to ponder if Te’o would be a subtraction by distraction.
Indianapolis might be the perfect spot for Te’o to start his professional career. I won’t say the media is soft in this market, but local reporters will be more tender than those in a lot of markets. New York, as much as the Giants like Te’o, would be about the worst place for him to start.
And the fan base here, full of Golden Dome supporters, are likely to be more forgiving and understanding of his past—and perhaps a little more patient with his future development than fans in markets like the Big Apple. That’s not to say Colts fans won’t howl if things go wrong with Te’o here. But they’ll at least give him a chance to get his sea legs.
Te’o is familiar with the 3-4 defense Pagano likes to run, having played in that scheme at Notre Dome. But some NFL scouts fear Te’o may not have the size or strength to flourish in a 3-4 in the NFL. If those doubts drop Te’o’s stock as some have predicted, and he’s available to the Colts beyond the first round, he may be far too much of a bargain for Grigson to pass up despite whatever distractions he may bring.
With all the noise made over Te’o’s fake girlfriend and his slow 40-yard dash, it’s almost easy to forget how good this guy was over an extended period in South Bend.
At the end of 2012, he won eight postseason awards, becoming one of the most decorated collegiate football players of all time.
He won the Bronko Nagurski and Defensive IMPACT Player of the Year Lott trophies as well as the Maxwell, Chuck Bednarik, Butkus, Lombardi and Walter Camp awards. In addition, he was named a national scholar-athlete by the National Football Foundation.
Te'o had 437 tackles in his four-year Notre Dame career. He ranks third all-time in school history behind Bob Crable (521, 1978–81) and Bob Golic (479, 1975–78). He joins Crable as the second player in Notre Dame history to record more than 100 tackles in three consecutive seasons. Te’o also led ND in interceptions his senior season.
Before it was uncovered earlier this year that Te’o’s supposedly dead girlfriend was a hoax, he would have been just the type of player Colts fans would have almost unanimously embraced on and off the field. Te’o said he was duped into thinking his girlfriend was real, a story that was corroborated by Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the perpetrator of the hoax.
There’s little middle ground with Te’o. He seems to inspire great passion among football followers. Fans either think he’s going to be the next great NFL linebacker or, like his girlfriend, they consider him a fraud.
When the first round of the NFL draft concludes Thursday, we’ll have a better idea of what Grigson and the rest of the general managers and team owners think.