Like the rest of us, NFL talent evaluators are struggling with what -- and most important, who -- to believe in the bizarre alleged hoax involving the fictitious dead girlfriend of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o.
The story is captivating, and only a few people know all of the details.
Rest assured that any NFL team that drafts Te'o, NFLDraftScout.com's top-rated inside linebacker and No. 10 overall prospect, will know all of the details before turning in their selection. Teams will get their opportunity to discuss the specifics with Te'o -- and only Te'o -- during the private meetings that each club is allowed to have during the Scouting Combine, Feb. 20-24.
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The answers that Te'o provides during those interviews could play a critical role in his final draft grade, perhaps even offering some background behind the Butkus and Nagurski award winner's uncharacteristically poor performance against Alabama in the BCS title game.
If Te'o is proven to have played a part in this fiasco, he has lost all credibility and his stock will truly suffer. Sure, teams have proven their willingness to gamble on players with criminal records multiple times in the past. Involved or not, Te'o will get drafted.
However, a long-time surefire first-round pick, he could find himself slipping out of the first day of the draft should it be discovered that he was highly involved in the cruel ruse. For now, he remains a first-round pick in Mock Drafts by Dane Brugler and myself.
Part of the Te'o appeal has been the fact that, as the "QB of the defense," he is expected to be someone his future team can parade in front of the media. Personally, I'd have a hard time lauding Te'o -- or any other player whom I didn't implicitly trust -- with a first-round grade.
At this early point, much of the confusion lies around Te'o's repeated claims to have met this woman. Te'o and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick have since maintained that Te'o's relationship with her was strictly online.
However, in my dealings with young people as a high school teacher, I've learned that their use of the word "meet" shockingly often includes conversations that have begun and ended online. Some of these kids are so incredibly naive.
Social networking is often favored over meeting in person. It is a phenomenon that many teens and young adults can readily identify with, but that many of us from a slightly older generation simply do not.
It is possible that Te'o fits in this class and is innocent of everything except having lied about actually physically meeting this "girl," which is embarrassing and silly, but certainly not a crime of any kind.
I watched the Notre Dame press conference on Wednesday night with great interest and was struck by the sincerity and details offered by Swarbrick. I am attempting to withhold judgment/comment until seeing if Te'o is able to do the same.
More important for Te'o, NFL evaluators will also be watching.