Another day, another People Magazine-style curiosity: Danica Patrick in the Daytona 500 on Sunday and Manti Te’o at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis the next day.
Early Monday morning I plopped onto the recliner and waited for the Notre Dame linebacker to perform. The question was whether he could do so well enough to make talent evaluators forget the story of his manufactured girlfriend.
Another controversy followed Te’o to the combine: NBC Sports’ Mike Florio reportedly said on Dan Patrick’s radio show that NFL teams want to know what this particular prospect’s sexual orientation is.
It’s pretty odd that the U.S. military permits gays to serve but professional pro sports teams still fear what a gay man would do to the chemistry of a locker room.
Florio indicated that teams haven’t specifically asked Te’o whether he’s gay but are trying to finesse the information out of him.
My impression always has been that NFL teams would employ a violent criminal on work release if he could help win games.
But they’re concerned about sexual orientation?
Te’o has become one of the most complicated NFL draft prospects in history for teams like the Bears who need a middle linebacker. His poor performance in the national championship game against Alabama didn’t help to clarify matters.
OK, so now Te’o has to perform well enough in drills to overcome the issues swirling around him. That’s a lot to ask, and he didn’t overwhelm many at the combine as coaches watched from upstairs, including Tom Coughlin with a stopwatch and Sean Payton through binoculars.
Early in the morning, investors tune in to CNBC to check out the S&P, Dow and Nasdaq futures to project how much money they’re going to lose that day. NFL talent scouts were trying to project how many games each prospect would cost them.
Blare the trumpets! There, live, beneath the stands, a TV camera spotted Te’o walking into the Lucas Oil Stadium. He disappeared into a locker room to prepare for scouts who will bisect, dissect and vivisect his every twitch.
At 11:45 a.m., Te’o reappeared on my TV screen, and a graphic listed him at 6-feet-1¼ and 241 pounds.
He proceeded to broad jump 9 feet, 5 inches twice, but the big moment was his 40-yard dash. He clocked a pedestrian 4.82 seconds.
None of this information means much to a football dope like me. What matters, of course, is what it means to NFL smart guys.
Too often scouts and coaches misjudge the data. On the subject at hand, either many teams will be dumb for passing up Te’o in the draft or one will be dumb for taking him.
So why do all these NFL experts care about what they’re seeing after watching a player on three or four seasons of college game tapes? Hard to say since the draft was a crapshoot before the combine was concocted a quarter-century ago and remains a crapshoot a quarter-century later.
The risk with linebackers is John Thierry Syndrome: Tremendous athlete, raced all over the field, drafted by the Bears in 1994’s first round, rarely made a play, departed five unproductive years later.
Most amusing at the combine was seeing coaches stare at the latest potential John Thierrys like men normally stare at Charlize Theron.
And this league is concerned about the possibility that a prospect might be gay?
Seriously, a case could be made that overall the NFL Scouting Combine is even more of a curiosity than Manti Te’o is.
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