Vikings will interview, assess Te'o

The Vikings plan on talking to Manti Te'o, the linebacker now projected to be drafted about the time the Vikings are on the clock. See what GM Rick Spielman and NFL.com draft analyst Mike Mayock had to say about Te'o's draft stock and what he needs to do at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Manti Te'o could be approaching the most important week of his football life.

The former Notre Dame linebacker will head to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis and will have to be prepared to answer questions from NFL teams about the girlfriend hoax that dominated the headlines surrounding the Irish's loss to Alabama in the National Championship Game.

The middle linebacker who was once considered a top-10 prospect has fallen, at least in the assessments of draft analysts in the media. Te'o received considerable attention when his supposed girlfriend was revealed to be an Internet hoax propagated on social media. The voice on the other end of the phone line in his long-distance relationship was Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, a former high school quarterback who knew Te'o personally and altered his voice to sound like a woman's voice when talking to Te'o on the phone. The question now is this: How much will that embarrassing situation affect his draft stock, if at all?

"In the end, you'll sit there and discuss all that. Every team will make their own determination," Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said. "How do you compare what happened, because he's an extremely talented football player, against a guy who may have a drug issue or may have an arrest record or may have some other off-field issue. Everybody's going to have, just like any player, their difference of opinion. We'll go through that process as well."

NFL.com draft analyst Mike Mayock said the off-the-field story shouldn't affect Te'o's on-field evaluation, but it could alter how teams view his potential for leadership, an important intangible with middle linebackers.

Mayock believes Te'o will be drafted somewhere around No. 20 overall. The Vikings, who could be in need of a middle linebacker if they don't signed pending free agent Jasper Brinkley, hold the No. 23 pick in the draft.

"I think there's two schools of thought (on Te'o)," Mayock said. "One is most of us have made mistakes at age 21 and the kid's naive and it's embarrassing but it shouldn't really hurt the kid because it's not one of those major things where you say, ‘Oh, we can't really have the kid on our football team.' Some other teams are going to look at it and say, ‘Hey, wait a minute. He lied to his father. He had a chance to, when he found out about this really, he had a chance to kind of tell the nation and he lied to the nation. Do you want a liar in your locker room?'

"I think most teams feel the former and I know a few teams told me they would be concerned about the liar in the locker room. At the end of the day, what I really think happens is that up until that story became public, he had a plus-plus-plus intangible grade. Was he going to become Ray Lewis? Could he galvanize a locker room? He had a huge intangible grade that would push his on-the-field grade higher. I think he's lost all that and at best it's now going to be neutral – just what kind of player you are and where can we slot you?"

While the NFL Scouting Combine, which starts Wednesday and runs through next Tuesday, is often viewed as being all about the strength and speed numbers, there are other less publicized facets that are more important to teams who have already seen the speed and strength in action on the playing field. At the combine, teams are allowed to formally interview 60 prospects for 15 minutes apiece. Te'o likely will be the most sought-after interview among teams.

The Vikings will be among the teams interviewing him.

"We'll get in front of him at the combine when our turn comes," Spielman said. "It's no bigger than anyone else. I know it's high-profile, but I try to treat everybody the same and try to do the same due diligence that you would with any other player. I don't put one emphasis above another."

Te'o likely will give some of the same answers he did during interviews on national television, interviews that Spielman watched, too. But over the next week in Indianapolis, it might not be what Te'o says as much as how he says it and if he can get NFL coaches, scouts and executives to believe it.

"I would tell Te'o you better look people in the eye. I know you're going to be embarrassed and I know it's going to be uncomfortable all weekend and all the way up to the draft. It's not going to be a comfortable situation for this kid, but don't be embarrassed," Mayock said. "I think he's a good kid and I think he made a mistake and he's naive and all that kind of stuff. But don't back away. Admit what you did. Look people in the eye. Tell them your story and the let the tape do the talking for you. Your tape over four years, your performance this weekend, run your tail off. It's going to be uncomfortable but be honest."

Te'o finished his Notre Dame career with 437 tackles, going three straight seasons with more than 100 tackles, but a poor performance against Alabama in the National Championship Game raised questions on the field.

Was that letdown in the National Championship Game because of the emerging story about his girlfriend being a hoax?

"It's important to view the entire body of work. Great production and number of big plays," NFL.com's analyst Bucky Brooks tweeted. "While he certainly had some flaws, he was super consistent for most of the season and is effective when covered up in OT to OT box. Combine will review his speed and athleticism. If he tests well, he will return to mid-first round range."

Spielman said he knows additional information about Te'o that hasn't been reported, but he declined to elaborate. The Vikings staff will undoubtedly address Te'o's National Championship performance when they talk to him at the combine.

"Was it (the hoax)? Was it because he's such a talented player and on the banquet circuit? I don't know. But I still think you evaluate the whole body of work," he said. "You don't just evaluate off one game. That's a huge part of the decision-making process, to make sure you have the whole big picture in front of you to make that determination, just not one game. Because there are other guys you look at who had a poor game in Week 3 for whatever reason or maybe in Week 7. He just happened to have it in the biggest college game of the year, but I don't think that's a reflection of what he is as a total overall football player."


Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.



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The question now is this: How much will that embarrassing situation affect his draft stock, if at all? \"In the end, you'll sit there and discuss all that. Every team will make their own determination,\" Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said. \"How do you compare what happened, because he's an extremely talented football player, against a guy who may have a drug issue or may have an arrest record or may have some other off-field issue. Everybody's going to have, just like any player, their difference of opinion. We'll go through that process as well.\" NFL.com draft analyst Mike Mayock said the off-the-field story shouldn't affect Te'o's on-field evaluation, but it could alter how teams view his potential for leadership, an important intangible with middle linebackers. Mayock believes Te'o will be drafted somewhere around No. 20 overall. The Vikings, who could be in need of a middle linebacker if they don't signed pending free agent Jasper Brinkley, hold the No. 23 pick in the draft. \"I think there's two schools of thought (on Te'o),\" Mayock said. \"One is most of us have made mistakes at age 21 and the kid's naive and it's embarrassing but it shouldn't really hurt the kid because it's not one of those major things where you say, ‘Oh, we can't really have the kid on our football team.' Some other teams are going to look at it and say, ‘Hey, wait a minute. He lied to his father. He had a chance to, when he found out about this really, he had a chance to kind of tell the nation and he lied to the nation. Do you want a liar in your locker room?' \"I think most teams feel the former and I know a few teams told me they would be concerned about the liar in the locker room. At the end of the day, what I really think happens is that up until that story became public, he had a plus-plus-plus intangible grade. Was he going to become Ray Lewis? Could he galvanize a locker room? He had a huge intangible grade that would push his on-the-field grade higher. I think he's lost all that and at best it's now going to be neutral – just what kind of player you are and where can we slot you?\" While the NFL Scouting Combine, which starts Wednesday and runs through next Tuesday, is often viewed as being all about the strength and speed numbers, there are other less publicized facets that are more important to teams who have already seen the speed and strength in action on the playing field. At the combine, teams are allowed to formally interview 60 prospects for 15 minutes apiece. Te'o likely will be the most sought-after interview among teams. The Vikings will be among the teams interviewing him. \"We'll get in front of him at the combine when our turn comes,\" Spielman said. \"It's no bigger than anyone else. I know it's high-profile, but I try to treat everybody the same and try to do the same due diligence that you would with any other player. I don't put one emphasis above another.\" Te'o likely will give some of the same answers he did during interviews on national television, interviews that Spielman watched, too. But over the next week in Indianapolis, it might not be what Te'o says as much as how he says it and if he can get NFL coaches, scouts and executives to believe it. \"I would tell Te'o you better look people in the eye. I know you're going to be embarrassed and I know it's going to be uncomfortable all weekend and all the way up to the draft. It's not going to be a comfortable situation for this kid, but don't be embarrassed,\" Mayock said. \"I think he's a good kid and I think he made a mistake and he's naive and all that kind of stuff. But don't back away. Admit what you did. Look people in the eye. Tell them your story and the let the tape do the talking for you. 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