Manti Te’o's senior season at Notre Dame can be best described as one of the weirdest and most compelling stories in college football.
Te’o, the runner-up in Heisman Trophy voting, finished with the most votes ever for a defensive player. Even though Notre Dame was blown out in a 42-12 loss to Alabama in the BCS National Championship game, one of the primary reasons they even made it that far was because of Te’o's contributions. However, a poor performance in the title game and a catfishing scandal that put Te’o in the middle of a hoax claiming to have a fictions girlfriend who had died have raised some flags.
Those flags about his truthfulness and decision making – despite Te’o never breaking any laws – have likely removed Te’o from first-round draft boards by certain NFL teams.
Even though Te’o has found himself at the butt of many jokes, those jokes could hit closer to home as many mock drafts have the Ravens selecting Te’0 with the 32nd overall pick in next week’s draft. Many have questioned if Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome would even take a chance on Te’o, and fans got that answer on Tuesday.
When asked if the Ravens consider Te’o's involvement in the catfishing hoax to be a character issue, Newsome replied, “Well, we had that question in our first meeting, and what’s the issue?”
As Newsome directed that question to reporters, one replied, “The issue of the fictitious girlfriend.”
“But is it beating women, is that using drugs, is it a DUI? How do you clarify that?” Newsome said. “I couldn’t.”
Newsome then turned to his left and asked assistant general manager Eric DeCosta, “Eric, can you?”
“Nope.” DeCosta replied.
Selecting an inside linebacker in the first round would carry major significance to the Ravens as it’ll be thought of as the eventual long-term replacement to retired legendary linebacker Ray Lewis. Not only will Te’o have to prove that his poor performance in the National Championship wasn’t a fluke, as he’ll face players better than Alabama on a weekly basis in the NFL, but replacing Lewis also adds pressure for leadership.
Head coach John Harbaugh was then asked if he trusted Te’o with possessing those leadership qualities and if he could count on him to eventually be a leader of his football team.
“I think we’ve answered that,” Harbaugh said. “Absolutely we do. We’re comfortable with him. We had a great interview. You look at his body of work, what he has accomplished, who he is as a person, where he comes from. We feel good about Manti .”
Personally, I believe there are far to many question marks surrounding Te’o and other long-term areas of need for the Ravens that can be filled with the final pick in the first round. If I was the one making decisions, I’d use the pick elsewhere; however, I’m not a professional football talent evaluator and if the Ravens decided to chose Te’o, fans should respect that Newsome and Co. have done their due diligence beforehand.
Aside from Te’o himself, there is a whole image the Ravens should be cautious about. After winning their second Super Bowl, the team is embarking on a new level of respect and scrutiny.
With Lewis now moving on in his post-football life, the Ravens have a chance to move on without the “murderer” baggage that followed him throughout the majority of his career. Even though it has become a non-factor in Baltimore, it’s a topic no one has forgotten in other football cities. The Ravens have a chance to start fresh with his successor and brining in someone with baggage such as Te’o – embarrassing baggage at that – I would just look elsewhere.
Rolando McClain will already need babysitting. There is no reason the Ravens should have to have one ounce of concern for their first round pick as they lay the foundation for their future.