As you may have heard by now, former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o had a rough go of it at the NFL scouting combine on Monday. He ran a slower-than-expected 4.82 in the 40-yard dash and weighed in at just 241 pounds (after being listed at 255 during his senior season in South Bend). While NFL coaches and general manages might have been willing to forgive one of the two, they’re less likely to feel enthused about a prospect who is both slower and smaller than they had initially believed. Just ask John Harbaugh.
The disappointing combine performance marks the latest setback in Te’o's 2013 draft preparation. After a stellar senior season in which he led the Fighting Irish to the BCS title game, Te’o has done little to establish himself as a top-flight linebacker. First, he underwhelmed in the national championship game on Jan. 7 against Alabama—a game that Notre Dame lost 42-14, in no small part due to a lackluster performance on defense. Later that month, scandal broke when it was revealed that Te’o was embroiled in an elaborate hoax involving his much-publicized dead girlfriend—who ultimately proved to be neither dead nor real in the first place.
These incidents, while certainly not Te’o's finest moments, did little to diminish his standing as one of the draft’s top defensive players. As of three weeks ago, ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. had Te’o going in the first round at No. 13 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Kiper wasn’t alone in his assessment. NFL talent evaluators seemed inclined to dismiss Te’o's January lapses as isolated incidents, but in a league that increasingly relies on hard data to make personnel decisions, Monday’s results could prove damning to Te’o's first-round hopes.
Of course, it’s still too early to say just how far the reigning Heisman trophy runner-up will fall in April’s draft. Notre Dame’s pro day is a month away (March 26), so Te’o will have ample time to add at least a little heft and speed. If he can, perhaps coaches and GMs will be as forgiving of his February foibles as they were of his earlier struggles.