INDIANAPOLIS - Manti Te'o won't have any problem distinguishing himself from the roughly 300 other prospects who will roll through the annual meat market that is the NFL scouting combine. Sometimes that can be an issue amid a scene where players are outfitted in non-descript jerseys identifying them as, say, WR07 or OL26.
Not for Te'o, the catfished Notre Dame linebacker. Everybody knows his name.
Too bad it's not just about football. The Te'o baggage is overloaded with the humiliating saga that involved apparently getting duped by a guy posing as a fake girlfriend, then carrying on with the lie about "her death" after learning of the hoax.
"Guys come into the process with 10 hurdles to clear. Well, he's got an 11th hurdle," an NFL general manager, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told USA TODAY Sports shortly after landing in Indianapolis on Wednesday.
"Now you come to the combine, and you spend all of your time with teams talking about those things, rather than the football aspects."
At one time - before the inspiring fable of his long-distance girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, and her death, unraveled - Te'o was a prospect whose stock was bolstered by intangibles. The character grade was in his favor. Now, despite the contention that the star player who led his team to a national championship game was too naïve to be involved in the hoax, there are questions of trust.
Mike Mayock, the NFL Network's draft guru, has some advice.
Mayock said, "Look people in the eye, tell your story and let the tape do the talking for you."
Ah, the videotape. That's the Holy Grail for NFL scouts, currency in the war room.
According to what's on tape, a scout for an NFL team who has studied Te'o extensively, told USA TODAY Sports that he doesn't rate the linebacker as a first-round talent - and it has nothing to do with the fake-girlfriend drama.
Although Te'o is projected as a late first-rounder by multiple draft analysts and rated as one of the top two inside linebackers in the draft, the scout said, referring to first-round in-side linebackers from recent drafts, "He's nowhere near the caliber of Patrick Willis or Brian Cushing."
You know how the NFL scouts can break down a prospect. While many have ques-tioned Te'o's speed, the scout told USA TODAY Sports that beyond a projected 40-yard dash time in the 4.8-second range, he considers Te'o will be used as a two-down player who would have to come off the field in obvious passing situations.
Furthermore, despite Te'o's seven interceptions and productive tackling stats - he had seven games last season with at least 10 tackles - the scout questioned his pursuit. The tackles often came downhill, the scout said, and there were too many missed tackles in the open field. Physically dominating? Not so much for an inside 'backer.
"Look at how Alabama exposed him in the national championship game," the scout said. "He got overwhelmed."
Welcome to the NFL draft process, Manti Te'o. For several weeks, Te'o has been training in Florida, preparing for the combine and his handlers insist, focusing on football. He will get his chance to demonstrate his physical talent. With a blazing 40-yard dash during his workout on Monday, he can change some perceptions. Then there are the individ-ual drills, the bench press ... and the team interviews.
While at the IMG Academy, Te'o's prep has included training for interviews. We know what that's about.
On Monday, though, Te'o told USA TODAY Sports' Jim Corbett of his far-reaching saga, "I don't think what I did with the whole situation, I don't understand how it takes away from what I did on the field."
Te'o's premise is understandable. It's football. But it's also naïve, as he gets set to enter the big business of the image-conscious NFL.
In one regard, Te'o is already an impact player in the NFL. He's exposed some middle-aged NFL general managers to the term "catfishing" and provided impetus -- in addition to the silliness involving many other players, college and pro -- for teams to beef up their scouting of social media platforms.
The combine might be the next step for Te'o charting a course to the NFL, but this catfishing drama will linger on many levels.
"I guarantee people will think twice about hiring him for any endorsements," says Lee Gordon, an executive for a media firm, 180 Communications, who has done social media presentations for several colleges, but has no ties to Te'o. "The jokes are out there.
"Whenever you Google his name, it will be there. He might have 20 tackles and pick off the pass to win the Super Bowl, but it will always be there."
At least they will know his name.
(Copyright © 2013 USA TODAY)