Manti Te'o's stock is apparently on the rise again, with time glossing over speculation that he could last until the second round of the NFL draft later this month.
After enduring an embarrassing and potentially damaging era from December to February, Te'o, the productive linebacker who made a name for himself at Notre Dame, could be selected in the middle of the first round, according to ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr., and that means he could be selected before the Vikings even have a chance to grab him with either their No. 23 or No. 25 overall selections in the first round.
Following the revelation that the girlfriend he apparently believed existed was an online hoax, Te'o's character came into question – some called him a liar who wanted to advance a feel-good media story about a star player at a high-profile school that continued to play as his "girlfriend" struggled with health issues. He also had a substandard 4.82-second 40-yard dash that further called into question his range and ability to cover tight ends and running backs as a three-down linebacker in the NFL.
Despite others believing that Te'o could make it until the second round before he is selected, Kiper said he believes Te'o to be a great fit for the Vikings – but whether or not he will be available with Minnesota's first pick at No. 23 is debatable.
"I just think Chicago (at No. 20) is where it's going to fall," Kiper said this week. "I tried to get him down to Minnesota (in a mock draft) because it makes so much sense, the Vikings at 23 – the Vikings pick again at 25; they desperately need a middle linebacker. They have a big hole at that position. It would be perfect for what they do there. Rick Spielman, his brother Chris Spielman, same thing, great production, not great 40. Chris Spielman had a heck of a career in the NFL.
"Te'o can have that type of career. His 40 time improved from 4.82 to anywhere between 4.69 and 4.74 when he ran that second 40, which was faster than the first 40 he ran at the pro day."
While Te'o's 40 time at the NFL Scouting Combine drew a lot of negative attention, he performed well in the drills that measure short-area quickness. He was sixth in both the three-cone (7.13) and short shuttle (4.27) among linebackers that participated in those drills.
NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said before the combine in February, where the Vikings and numerous other teams interviewed Te'o, that some teams were concerned about adding Te'o and his history to their locker rooms.
"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?"
As for the Vikings, general manager Rick Spielman said before their interview with Te'o that he would be treated like any other player.
"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."
The Vikings' need at the position is great after allowing 2012 starter Jasper Brinkley to sign a free-agent contract with the Arizona Cardinals. If Minnesota doesn't draft a middle linebacker in the first round, they would also be rolling the dice that a viable option is still available late in the second round, with the No. 52 pick overall, or use additional picks to move up in the second round.
That drop-off has Kiper wondering if the Vikings might even try to move up a handful of picks in the first round to get in front of the Bears and New York Giants, two other teams that could be considering selecting Te'o.
"That's an interesting dynamic when you get two teams in the same division (the Vikings and Bears) and you've got the same player, Te'o, fitting both spots tremendously well," Kiper said.
"He should have a very good career. Whether it'll be great or not obviously is debatable. But he'll have a good career."
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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