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Why no NFL team drafted Manti Te'o in the first round
It's not all his fake Twitter girlfriend's fault
 
A fake girlfriend won't prevent you from getting picked by the NFL, but a miserable individual performance sure will.
A fake girlfriend won't prevent you from getting picked by the NFL, but a miserable individual performance sure will. John Pyle/ZUMA Press/Corbis

This one's no hoax: Manti Te'o was not selected in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft Thursday night.

Fresh off a sterling season at Notre Dame, Te'o was generally considered a late first rounder, the only question being which team would scoop him up. But a host of red flags, both on and off the field, combined to drag him down and out of round one.

The most memorable strike against Te'o is the fake girlfriend story that unraveled earlier this year. As you may recall, Te'o said throughout the season that he was playing with a heavy heart because his girlfriend, a Stanford student named Lennay Kekua, had died in September. Te'o's perseverance in the face of adversity was one of the most inspirational storylines of the college football season.

Except it was all fake, a Catfish-style ruse perpetrated by a man named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo. While Te'o was the victim of the prank, it still raised concerns that his physical talent — he was named college's top defensive player last year and became a Heisman finalist — might not outweigh concerns about his personal life. 

"At the end of the day, NFL teams won't be as concerned about the bizarre details of this unprecedented saga as the fascinated American public," NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah wrote shortly after the hoax came to light. "However, they absolutely will be concerned if Te'o himself turns out to be anything other than the player that his coaches and support staff at Notre Dame have described him to be."

And the scandal has for the most part blown over by now, so it's doubtful that it factored prominently into teams' decision making, if at all.

"If you believe the Invisible Woman had anything to do with Manti Te'o not getting drafted in the first round, you would be wrong," says CBS Sports' Mike Freeman, who adds that no team executives he spoke with cited the fake girlfriend as a reason they passed on Te'o. Rather, he argues, Te'o's miserable individual performance in the BCS title game against Alabama — in which the Crimson Tide embarrassed the Irish in a nationally televised whooping — set pro teams to wondering if he could keep up with NFL-caliber competition.

"The league clearly values Nick Saban and the Alabama system," Freeman says. "The fact that Te'o got smoked against that team severely injured his stock, doing so more than teams were letting on before the draft." 

With those questions lingering, Te'o had a chance to redeem himself at the NFL combine, the pre-draft exhibition where prospective players showcase themselves for NFL executives. Yet there, too, Te'o failed to impress, turning in a sluggish 40-yard dash time, and a very poor showing overall.

How badly did that hurt Te'o? All you need to see is Ravens coach John Harbaugh's reaction to him running the 40:

So even with a weak draft class, and even with multiple teams reportedly interested in snatching him up Thursday, Te'o slid out of round one. He's now expected to go in the second round, which gets underway this weekend. Though as we saw Thursday, nothing in this draft is certain.

 
Jon Terbush is an associate editor at TheWeek.com covering politics, sports, and other things he finds interesting. He has previously written for Talking Points Memo, Raw Story, and Business Insider.

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