SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- At Notre Dame's pro day, Manti Te'o, the Fighting Irish linebacker (Scouts Inc. grade: 89) ran what should be the last 40-yard dashes he'll ever need to run in his life. Though the job interview process with teams is far from over, the 40-yard dash was the main event on Tuesday.
At the NFL combine in Indianapolis, Te'o ran an official 4.82. At his pro day, according to my stopwatch, Te'o ran a 4.71 and a 4.75. Other scouts I spoke to ranged from 4.71 to 4.77. While 40 times are an overblown portion of the scouting process, there's no question that To'e had money on the line when running his sprints in front of representatives from 27 of 32 NFL teams.
What does this tell you about Te'o as a football player? James Laurinaitis, the St. Louis Rams' inside linebacker, has had a good career. He ran a 4.88 at the combine. But it shows it's awfully hard to justify pulling the trigger on a first round ILB to begin with (in last three years only, there's only been an average of one in the first round.) But add a 40 time of 4.8 or slower to the mix and it takes a true exception to the rule.
Provided the player grades out on tape as a first rounder (and checks out medically and psychologically), the next step is to verify his "measurables." The range of mid-4.5 to mid-4.7 is where teams feel most comfortable when it comes to ILBs -- and obviously the faster the better.
It sounds crazy because it's a only tenth of a second difference in the 40-yard dash. But with so much on the line, a scout wants to see a 40 time in the range that he's comfortable with so that, when he turns in his final report to a team's general manager, the evaluation all ties together. He wants to make sure that the speed he saw on the stopwatch matches the speed that he saw on tape. Then, he combines the 40 numbers with the football skills and the other aspects he has evaluated in order to make sure it all matches up to a first-round grade.
A GM then needs to take this information and do his due diligence. He wants to make sure that money will be invested in an inside linebacker he believes is good enough to be selected in the first round.
In the past three years, we've seen an average of one inside linebacker taken in the first rounds and 2.6 in the first two rounds. It's not a position that has guys flying off the draft board. And because the positional value isn't high, a team's decision-makers want to be blown away by everything in order to spend a first-round pick on a player.
For example, Te'o, who didn't do the bench press at the combine, did 21 reps on the bench in South Bend. Florida's Jelani Jenkins did 27 at the combine. Jonathan Bostic did 22. Te'o was right around the average of 22 for this year, so there was nothing alarming for him in that test.
The elite players at the position have speed to back up what you see on tape. The two-best I've scouted at ILB are Patrick Willis, who at 6-foot-1 and 242 pounds ran the 40 in 4.56 in 2007, and Luke Kuechly, who at 6-3 and 242 pounds ran the 40 in 4.58 in 2012.
I'm not saying there are worlds of difference between those two and Te'o, but you come away giving a higher grade to guys like Kuechly and Willis. You give them the stamp of approval as elite inside linebacker prospects, those you'd be willing to spend that first-round pick on.
With Te'o, the tape suggests he's second-tier. He's not a player you're going to build your defense around like a Kuechly, Willis, Ray Lewis or Brian Urlacher. But you feel he's going to become a really solid starter for your team for many years.
With his 40-time on Tuesday matching up with the tape, the other hurdle Te'o will need to address is the off-the-field questions. I don't think it will affect him much, but he will talk to 32 teams with 32 different mindsets.
For the teams that have a need for an inside linebacker, it all comes to which players remain on the board when it's a team's turn to draft.
For a team such as the New York Giants, if there's a right tackle there they like better, such as Alabama's D.J. Fluker, they'll likely take the tackle. It's not that they don't like Te'o, but they like Fluker better. When you get to pick No. 20, it's the same scenario with the Chicago Bears. The Indianapolis Colts could consider Te'o at No. 24, but it's not as likely despite Indy's need for a middle linebacker.
Armed with the 23rd and 25th pick in the first round, the Minnesota Vikings could be interested. Which should explain why the Vikings' Rick Spielman was the only general manager in attendance today at Notre Dame. Then we have the Denver Broncos and the Baltimore Ravens, who also may be interested in Te'o. There are a number of teams in picks 19 through 32 who have a need for a middle linebacker.
I'm not saying he's a first-rounder or that today stamped him as a first-rounder, but I think the process has been, going back to the national championship through the combine, mostly a negative one for Te'o.
Tuesday was the first day you could walk away from something he's been a part of in the pre-draft process that could be seen, publicly, as a positive.
Moving forward, Te'o will continue his private workouts for teams in their cities. The key will be how he conducts himself. He'll meet with the teams' coaching staffs, the psychological staffs, the training staffs, the medical staffs, the position coaches, the head coaches, general managers and anyone else they ask him to.
Then the teams will put Te'o on the board in order to go through all the football questions. They'll give him the playbook and ask him to regurgitate an installment -- which is a small series of plays -- which they'll teach to him and they'll want him to give it back to them. All of the players in the draft will go through this. They will be long, grueling 10- to 12-hour days. Then, all it takes is meeting and hitting it off with the right team. Of course, that team must have a need at the position and be comfortable with everything it sees on tape.
I have spoken to an NFL general manager in the past couple of weeks who told me that a team has to be comfortable with Te'o's off-the-field issues -- considering that there are a lot of other options in the draft -- because there could be concerns as to how he appropriates himself in a locker room.
Another interesting thing about the Notre Dame pro day was the small attendance from front office personnel. As I mentioned, there was one GM, no head coaches and 27 of the 32 teams sent representatives, but the vast majority of them were area scouts.
And in talking to former NFL coach Eric Mangini, who was there with me for ESPN, we think there was only one linebacker coach who put Te'o through drills, which is especially unusual for a potential first-round pick. Te'o's positional workout was abnormally short. He didn't go through blocking bags or do anything that he did at the combine. Now, there's a greater likelihood that teams will spend time with him going through those drills. It was just a bit unusual for a first-round pick. Tight end Tyler Eifert (Scouts Inc. grade: 93) didn't do much either. It was 10-15 reps of position work and that was it.
Te'o and Eifert did most every drill at the combine, so that could be the reason there were so few front office personnel and so few drills for both players. Basically, people wanted to see Te'o's 40 time -- and the scouts can report back on that.
Other Notre Dame pro day notes
• Kapron Lewis-Moore, who was a fast-rising prospect before suffering an injury late in the season, is still recovering and didn't look as though he could work out before the draft. I think he could be an intriguing late-round pick. But because of the injury, he'll be under the radar and few will bring up his name. You might see his name on the ticker on Day 3, but don't be surprised three or four years from now if he's contributing to an NFL team.
• Zeke Motta, who was a highly productive safety, ran two marginal 40 times at the combine, including an official 4.83 in Indy. But he improved slightly Tuesday; I had him at 4.72 and 4.78. He has run the 40 five times for scouts and none of them have been 4.7 or better. He's a very good football player and a lot of scouts have him in the third- or fourth-round range. He's another one who might wind up surprising when he gets to the next level.
• Theo Riddick ran a faster 40 time than he did at the combine. On Tuesday, I clocked him at a high 4.5. At the combine, he ran a 4.68 and pulled his hamstring doing it. So, by running in the 4.5s, that helps him. He's a versatile running back and slot receiver. He showed great hands and route-running while catching the ball.
• I clocked RB Cierre Wood at 4.49. Wood ran surprising low at the combine, where the stopwatches had him in the 4.4s, but the electronic clock had him at 4.56. But on my stopwatch on Tuesday, he ran the 4.49. He has been in and out of the doghouse for his career, but he's a talented back. He'll probably be a Day 3 pick.