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Chiefs need an inside linebacker; will Te’o fall to them?

  • Kansas City Star
  • Published Wednesday, April 10, 2013, at 11:17 p.m.

If the Chiefs were to play a game today, they’d be one player short.

They’re in dire need of an inside linebacker to play alongside Derrick Johnson in the base 3-4 front and will likely utilize the draft to fill the spot occupied by the late Jovan Belcher during the past three seasons.

But the most highly rated inside linebacker in the draft comes with a boatload of questions and certainly isn’t worth the first pick in the draft.

The question is how far will Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o fall?

Te’o was the most decorated college football player of 2012, winning the Nagurski, Lombardi, Bednarik, Maxwell, Butkus and Walter Camp awards and was runner-up for the Heisman Trophy after making 103 tackles and seven interceptions in leading the Irish to a 12-1 record and appearance in the national championship game.

But he will be forever known for his relationship with a fictitious girlfriend who supposedly died early in the season. Once Te’o learned the girl’s existence was a hoax, he still perpetuated the lie through the Heisman ceremony and national championship game against Alabama until it was exposed by the website Deadspin.com.

Te’o tried doing damage control with interviews on ESPN and Katie Couric as well as during the NFL Scouting Combine and pro day workout at Notre Dame, and he is expected to be a mid-to-late first-round pick. Every team that interviewed Te’o asked him about the fabrication.

“They’ve wanted to hear it from me what the truth was,” Te’o said at the combine. “They haven’t really said anything about it affecting me (in the draft). Everybody makes mistakes and one of the positive things about what I went through is I’ve learned to empathize with those who are going through the same thing.

“I’ve told teams, ‘You’ll get somebody who’s humble, works hard, doesn’t say much, and will do everything it takes to win.’”

While teams have had to do their homework when considering drafting players who have been arrested for DUI, drug issues or domestic violence, Te’o’s misconduct is unprecedented.

So before evaluating him as a player, teams have to decide whether they can trust him in the locker room as a person.

“There are two schools of thought,” said NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock. “One is most of us have made mistakes at age 21, and the kid’s naive, and it’s embarrassing. But it shouldn’t really hurt the kid because it’s not like one of those major things where you say, ‘We can’t have him on our team.’

“Some other teams are going to look at him and say he lied to his father. He had a chance when he found out about what really happened, he had a chance to tell the nation, and he lied to the nation. And do you want a liar in your locker room?”

It may have been more than a coincidence that just as the hoax was about to go public, Te’o was manhandled during Notre Dame’s 42-14 loss to Alabama in the title game.

“That was all on me,” Te’o said. “I played hard, and so did my team, but Alabama had a great game plan … they executed better than we did.”

Te’o went up against at least four players from Alabama — guard Chance Warmack, tackle D.J. Fluker, center Barrett Jones and running back Eddie Lacy — who all will be high draft picks, so that game may not hurt Te’o too much.

“I think his body of work trumps it,” Mayock said. “I’m not trying to give the kid any excuses. I watched the tape and it wasn’t good. And most talent evaluators are going to say what is the one team he played this year that’s most like an NFL team and let’s go watch that tape? Obviously, that’s Alabama, and he played poorly.

“However, if you put the tape on over the last several years and watch him play 40 times and watched him play against Stanford, and watched him play against Michigan State, and watched him play against Oklahoma, I think the body of work over that period of time tells you he’s a first-round pick.”

Te’o ran a slow 4.82 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the combine but improved it to 4.69 at his pro day in hopes he convinced teams he could be an every-down linebacker in the NFL.

Speculation has Te’o going anywhere from Chicago with the 20th pick as a replacement for Brian Urlacher to Baltimore with the 32nd choice as the heir apparent to Ray Lewis.

“I’ve grown up watching Ray Lewis, just watching his intensity, his passion for the game, his work ethic,” Te’o said. “Everything in a linebacker that you want to be is in Ray Lewis, from leadership qualities, all that.

“He’ll definitely be missed in Baltimore and in the NFL as a whole. If I get to go to Baltimore, it will definitely be some big shoes to fill, but an opportunity I’ll be honored to have.”

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