Manti Te'o Stanford

All NFL eyes will be on Te’o this week

41 Comments

The NFL will descend on Indianapolis this week, with the first big step in NFL Draft preparations taking place for the 32 member clubs, as they get their chance to poke and prod 333 college prospects. For many eligible draft players, they’ve spent the days since their college careers ended training for the annual cattle call, working on drill specific skills, trying their best to shave away hundredths of a second on their forty times, or working on broad jumps or three-cone shuttle runs that don’t always translate to the football field.

No NFL prospect has had a more adventurous post-season run than Manti Te’o, who has seen his reputation take quite a hit both on and off the field, courtesy of his underwhelming performance against Alabama and the revelation of the hoax surrounding Te’o’s long-distance girlfriend Lennay Kekua.

While Te’o made the obligatory media rounds, talking to ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap and Katie Couric, he’ll know have a chance to tell NFL team’s his side of the story, making him one of two athletes with the most at stake at the combine, according to Sports Illustrated’s Peter King.

Here’s what King had to say about Te’o in today’s Monday Morning Quarterback column:

Manti Te’o. The Notre Dame linebacker has spent a lot of time practicing football and practicing what he’s going to say to teams. His last game, against Alabama, was a nightmare (he was awful, and overpowered), and then the whole fake girlfriend story came up, making him a national story and, in some quarters, a national joke. It won’t matter much how he works out in Indianapolis. What will matter are the 15-minute interviews he’ll have in formal evening sessions with teams, and in less formal settings, seeing coaches and personnel people at the stadium and around his hotel.

King puts Te’o in the same category as former Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree, who was suspended four games this season for failing a drug test and was arrested for DUI last week in Arizona, where he’s preparing for the draft.

Perhaps King hasn’t had a chance to interact with Te’o, because there’s little doubt that the former Irish linebacker will come out of meetings with teams impressing. If the concerns are strictly off the field for Te’o, then it’ll be an easy week for the All-American, who handled the aftermath of the hoax revelation about as well as you could expect the most seasoned political operative, not to mention a 21-year-old kid.

Maybe his body of work over four seasons is enough, but if you’re looking for news from Te’o this week, keep an eye on his measureables. After struggling against Alabama’s massive defensive front, it’s important for Te’o to look the part of an elite inside linebacker, putting up numbers physically that match his productivity over the past four seasons.

While Te’o is listed as 6-foot-2, 255-pounds in Notre Dame’s program, it’ll be interesting to see if he measures that tall at the combine. I’d also expect to see Te’o weigh in a little lighter, with a more sculpted frame helping the linebacker look quick and athletic during the agility and speed portions of the testing.

It’s hard to understand how a linebacker that was part of an elaborate and sick catfishing deception has as much to prove as a guy that’s failed a drug test and can’t stay out of trouble even while preparing for the biggest job interview of his life. But that’s the flip-side of the attention Te’o received all season, where the linebacker finished second in the Heisman Trophy race after leading Notre Dame to a national championship game appearance.

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

North Carolina v Notre Dame
Getty
1 Comment

Former Notre Dame captain Sheldon Day didn’t have to wait long on Saturday to hear his name called. The Indianapolis native, All-American, and the Irish’s two-time defensive lineman of the year was pick number 103, the fourth pick of the fourth round on Saturday afternoon.

Day was the seventh Irish player drafted, following first rounders Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, second round selections Jaylon Smith and Nick Martin, and third rounders KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise.

Day has a chance to contribute as he joins the 24th-ranked defense in the league. Joining a draft class heavy on defensive players—Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue already picked ahead of him—the front seven will also include last year’s No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler, who missed the entire season with a knee injury.

Scouted by the Jaguars at the Senior Bowl, Day doesn’t necessarily have the size to be a traditional defensive tackle. But under Gus Bradley’s attacking system (Bradley coordinated the Seahawks defense for four seasons), Day will find a niche and a role in a young defense that’s seen a heavy investment the past two years.

Smith, Martin, Russell and Prosise all drafted Friday night

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 13: William Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Nick Martin #72 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate a touchdown during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
5 Comments

Jaylon Smith, Nick Martin, KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise were all selected on Friday, with four Irish teammates taken on the second night of the NFL Draft. As mentioned, Smith came off the board at pick 34, with the Cowboys gambling on the injured knee of the Butkus Award winner. Nick Martin was selected at pick 50, joining former teammate Will Fuller in Houston.

The third round saw Russell and Prosise come off the board, with Kansas City jumping on the confident cornerback and the Seahawks taking Notre Dame’s breakout running back. It capped off a huge night for the Irish with Sheldon Day, one of the more productive football players in college football, still on the board for teams to pick.

Here’s a smattering of instant reactions from the immediate aftermath.

 

 

Jaylon Smith goes to Dallas with 34th pick

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07:  Jaylon Smith #9 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates by wearing the hat of team mascot, Lucky The Leprechaun, following their 42-30 win against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Getty
9 Comments

Jaylon Smith’s nightmare is over.

After watching his football life thrown into chaos with a career-altering knee injury, Smith came off the board after just two picks in the second round, selected by the Dallas Cowboys with the 34th pick. His selection ended the most challenging months of Smith’s young life, and come after cashing in a significant tax-free, loss-of-value insurance policy that’ll end up being just shy of a million dollars.

No, it’s not top-five money like Smith could’ve expected if he didn’t get hurt. But Smith isn’t expected to play in 2016.

And while there was a pre-draft fascination that focused on the doom and gloom more than the time-consuming recovery, it’s worth pointing out that Dallas’ medical evaluation comes from the source—literally. After all, it was the Cowboys team doctor, Dr. Dan Cooper, who performed the surgery to repair Smith’s knee.

Smith joins Ezekiel Elliott with the Cowboys, arguably the two best position players in the draft. While he might not be available in 2016, Smith will be under the supervision of the Cowboys’ medical staff, paid a seven-figure salary to get healthy with the hopes that he’ll be back to his All-American self sooner than later, especially as the nerve in his knee returns to full functionality.

Will Fuller brings his game-changing skills to the Texans offense

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07: Will Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish catches a pass before running into the endzone for a touchdown in the second quarter in front of Avonte Maddox #14 of the Pittsburgh Panthers during the game at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Getty
2 Comments

In all the weeks and months leading up to the NFL Draft, one key tidbit linking Will Fuller to the Houston Texans never seemed to come up. The relationship between Brian Kelly and Bill O’Brien.

The two coaches share a high school alma mater, a friendship that made the due diligence on Notre Dame’s prolific playmaker easy. And it was clear that after all their research, Houston was aggressive in their pursuit of Fuller, trading up to make Notre Dame’s All-American the second receiver off the board, triggered a run at the position.

“He was a guy that we felt strongly about,” Texans general manager Rick Smith told the team’s official website. “We didn’t want to take a chance on not getting him. We were aggressive. We went and made the move.”

That move made Fuller’s decision to leave Notre Dame after three seasons a good one. While it’ll require the Irish to rebuild at a position where Fuller served as one of college football’s best home run hitters, it gives Houston a vertical threat that can extend the top of a defense for a Texans offense that was serious about finding some solutions for a team already in the playoff mix.

Yes, Fuller has work to do. Completing the easy catch is one big area. But for all the pre-draft talk about his limitations, Brian Kelly took on some of the criticism head-on when talking with the Texans’ media reporter.

“Some people have compared him to Teddy Ginn, that’s not fair. He can catch the ball vertically like nobody I’ve coached in 25 years,” Kelly said (a sentiment some hack also laid out). Teddy Ginn is a very good player, but this is a different kind of player. If you throw the ball deep, he’s going to catch the football.”

Fuller is never going to be the biggest receiver on the field. But while most of the banter on his game focused on the negative or his deep ball skills, expect Fuller to find a role not just running deep but unleashed in the screen game as well. After the Texans spent huge on quarterback Brock Osweiler and have invested in fellow Philadelphia native and 2015 third-round pick Jaelen Strong, Fuller wasn’t selected for the future but rather expected to be a day-one piece of the puzzle.

“This will change the speed on offense immediately,” Kelly said. “It was not ‘Hey, let’s wait a couple of years’. It was ‘Let’s go get this right now’ and I think Will will do that for them.”