The Faceoff: Manti Te’o should be a first-round pick

Manti Te’o once sat atop the college football world as the best player on the No. 1-ranked team in the country, a Heisman Trophy finalist and a surefire first-round pick, probably set to go in the first 10 selections in the NFL Draft.

Now roughly two months away from the 2013 NFL Draft, Te’o is in danger of falling out of the first round altogether.

What happened to Te’o’s draft stock following Notre Dame University’s improbable run to the national championship? A series of overly scrutinized events that have little to no bearing on Te’o’s true value as a professional football player.

With a long break between the end of the college football season and the NFL Draft, sports media have virtually no football material to judge college prospects. Te’o has fallen victim to a sports media which blow events that have little to do with the sport out of proportion.

The girlfriend hoax scandal is the most egregious example of sports media sensationalism. While the story is bizarre and raises questions over Te’o’s gullibility, it has nothing to do with Te’o’s performance on the field and certainly shouldn’t detract from his leadership skills in leading a Notre Dame team to national prominence for the first time in decades.

As for the NFL Scouting Combine, Te’o’s 40-yard dash time of 4.82 seconds caused an uproar in the sports reporting news cycle, as football analysts suggested that this time proved that Te’o isn’t athletic enough to warrant a first-round selection.

The combine itself is a flawed representation of a player’s real athleticism, though.

Combine results should be used to verify aspects of a player’s game seen on tape, not as an alternative to studying film. Any analysis of Te’o’s game film will show that he boasts surprising quickness and agility in short distances for a run-stopping linebacker weighing 241 pounds.

The bottom line is that Te’o is an elite defensive prospect whose draft stock lowered due to offseason issues that distract from his true value. Based on pure instincts and football acumen alone, Te’o is a first-round pick. He is a natural leader on the field with elite run stuffing and coverage abilities.

If Te’o is to somehow slip out of the first round in late April, a linebacker-needy team should sprint to the podium to select the player who will undoubtedly be the steal of the draft.