NFL Draft: Manti Te'o still hasn't made it

NFL Draft: Manti Te'o still hasn't made it
April 25, 2013, 10:15 pm
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Manti Te'o dreamed of the day he would hear his name called in the NFL Draft. It was supposed to come in the first round. In March, after Te'o completed his pro day workouts at Notre Dame, he talked about being selected in the draft as being a "dream come true."

"When you start playing football, and at the age when you decide, man, I really want to do this for a living, draft day is the day you dream of," he said. "Obviously when that happens I'm going to be very happy that I got to spend it with my family, and that we finally made it. And it's the first step to a very, very long journey."

Thursday, though, turned into a worst-case scenario for the former Notre Dame star.

When the dust settled after nearly four hours of analysis, commercial breaks and boos for Roger Goodell in New York, Te'o's name remained on the board. Minnesota -- the team quite a few prognosticators tabbed to select Te'o -- had three first-round picks, and didn't use any of them on Te'o. The Bears passed on Te'o at No. 20, and Baltimore -- the last hope for Te'o to go in the first round -- took Florida safety Matt Elam with pick No. 32.

[More: Moving on from Manti Te'o, Notre Dame turns to Jarrett Grace]

Taking a step back, Te'o's fall from the first round was truly stunning. But the fake dead girlfriend saga brought an intense amount of scrutiny on Te'o. Before that, he was trampled by Eddie Lacy and Alabama on the national stage in Miami Gardens. A poor showing at the Scouting Combine in February did far more to hurt his status than either of those showings, though. It was in late February when it became apparent that Te'o could slip out of the first round.

On Thursday, that became a reality. It's something few could've predicted -- although, having news break that Lennay Kekua never existed was something nobody could've seen coming in December, too.

Notre Dame players gathered to watch the Draft Thursday night, waiting for their former teammate and captain to be selected. Defensive tackle Louis Nix -- who's a likely first-round pick next April -- twice tweeted an expectation Te'o would be plucked by the Vikings.

Before that, a few Notre Dame players figured Te'o (or Tyler Eifert) would be picked by Chicago. "Bears for sure," said safety Matthias Farley in a Vine from Austin Collinsworth. A few seconds later, when the Bears took offensive lineman Kyle Long: "awwwww."

The day wasn't all bad for Notre Dame, as Eifert went at No. 21 to Cincinnati. The Bengals, though, already have a skilled tight end in Jermaine Gresham, who reeled in 64 catches with Cincinnati in 2012. It was Gresham's best season since coming to the Bengals from Oklahoma in 2010, although he's caught no fewer than 52 passes in each of his three seasons in the NFL. Still, having a pair of athletic tight ends gives quarterback Andy Dalton some serious weapons, especially in the red zone, and takes a little pressure off Eifert in his first year as a professional.

After his junior season, Eifert weighed entering the NFL Draft, although he was projected only as a third-round pick. He returned to Notre Dame and made an effort to improve his blocking skills, something talent evaluators said he did in 2012.

"This is such an exciting time for Tyler and his family," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said in a statement released by the team. "He was faced with a difficult decision following his junior season whether or not to return to school. Tyler returned for his senior season and that decision was rewarded today. He proved to be the best tight end in college football, solidified himself as a first-round draft pick and, most importantly, earned his degree from the University of Notre Dame."

[More: Cierre Wood hasn't lost his swagger]

Still, while Eifert celebrated in Fort Wayne, Te'o, who was at home in Laie, Hawaii, didn't hear his name called. He's likely to be selected in Friday's second round. Wherever he goes, a media circus will follow, and the attention won't be off him for a while -- no matter if he succeeds or fails in his rookie year in the NFL. Perhaps it won't be on the same level seen surrounding Tim Tebow, but the events of the last six or seven months have assured Te'o won't be able to fade into the background anytime soon.

Te'o figured his tape was good enough. The dozen regular-season games -- in which he totaled seven interceptions and over 100 tackles -- seemed like enough, along with tape from previous seasons.

"I'm very confident," Te'o said in March. "I'm not sure how teams are going to evaluate me, but like I was saying, it's about your film. They see what I could do on the football field, and obviously that's what I'm comfortable with: Find ball, hit ball, make plays. That's what I'm going to improve on and I'm glad this is over and that all of us can focus on preparing to play football now."

The film had flaws, though. So did Te'o's workouts, especially his sub-par 40 time at the Scouting Combine. And, on some level, the Lennay Kekua saga probably played a role in Te'o falling out of the first round.

So now, for Te'o, it's on to Day Two.