Todd McShay's latest mock draft has the Ravens selecting Manti Te'o as the 32nd overall pick. Despite all the media controversy that has surrounded Te'o in the past few months, this may actually be a smart choice for Baltimore. True, Te'o did run a 4.83 40 in the combine, slower than expected, and slower than many other players at his position. Of course there's also the fact that he was engaged in a serious relationship with a virtual girlfriend, something that has tarnished his reputation and spurred doubts from many NFL teams.
But here's why I believe none of that matters. For one, despite his slow time, Te'o is still an incredible athlete, with some of the best tackling skills in the country. He is also an innate defensive reader, quick to respond to screens, draws, and audibles. As if that is not enough, he took his team from starting unranked in the 2012 AP preseason poll to the national championship.
After the passing of his girlfriend and grandmother last September, Te'o impressed us all when he reported he would continue playing out his senior year at Notre Dame, finishing as leading tackler with 101 tackles in the regular season. Personally, I did not make much of the girlfriend hoax, because I believe that a player's personal life is their own, and they can and should make whatever they choose of it. But when confronted, Te'o handled the reporters' questions in the best way possible, by admitting his folly, but following that up by saying that it is a part of the journey, something that will make him a stronger individual. What is ironic here is that Te'o received such intense scrutiny despite not breaking a single law, while Alabama just barred three of their football players from campus on the premise of robbery arrests, a story that received a fraction of the attention Te'o's did.
In Baltimore, Suggs is still the emerging defensive leader, especially with the question marks surrounding Ed Reed, but Te'o is one of the most passionate, vocal individuals in this draft class, and if he were to bring that fervor to Ozzie Newsome's squad, the effects would be enormous. With time, this media attention will diffuse, and all but a handful of individuals will still taint Te'o's image with the hoax story. Then the true Te'o will be revealed, and he will show us all what it means to be a leader, as he dons the purple and black with the same pride Ray Lewis did for years before him.