ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Following an afternoon practice for the East-West Shrine Game at St. Petersburg High School, I met up with an NFL team executive for a quick dinner. Just as our waiter dropped off some water and a basket of bread, my phone began to blow up with text messages.
My friends from around the league were peppering me with quick notes asking if I'd seen the news about Manti Te'o. I had no idea what they were talking about. I quickly opened up the Twitter app on my phone and found numerous links to the Deadspin.com report revealing an extraordinarily bizarre situation.
Several media members have asked me how this situation could potentially affect Te'o's draft stock. My answer: I have no idea. I've posed that exact question to a handful of NFL executives and they've provided me with the same answer. We've never seen anything quite like this situation.
Every draft prospect has a certain set of strengths and weaknesses. Te'o might lack ideal speed and explosiveness, but his impressive football intelligence and leadership make him an attractive player to teams across the league. It's not necessary to have dominant leadership qualities at every position, but quarterback and middle linebacker are two spots where it's a huge plus.
There are still so many questions surrounding this strange "fake" girlfriend hoax. NFL teams will be interested in finding out the truth, but they will be even more interested in finding out if Te'o's strong overall reputation is based in fact. His teammates at Notre Dame should expect a lot of attention from NFL scouts over the next few months. NFL personnel departments will ask everyone around Te'o for their opinion on this particular situation, as well as every other area of his life.
Prior to the NFL Scouting Combine, every NFL team compiles a list of the 60 prospects that they would like to formally interview in Indianapolis. Before this story broke, I would have estimated that Te'o would be lined up for about 12 to 15 interviews. Some teams wouldn't be in the market for a high-round middle linebacker, while others wouldn't feel the need to deeply probe a player with impeccable character.
Following this news, though, I fully expect all 32 teams to put the Notre Dame captain on their interview lists. He will need to explain this situation to every franchise at the combine, and the questions won't stop there. He will be grilled about his own "authenticity" and asked to explain individual examples of how he displayed his famed leadership qualities.
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. 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.
East-West Shrine Game risers
These five players have really helped their draft stock during the East-West practices:
Christine Michael, RB, Texas A&M: Michael has been the top back in practices. He has a powerful frame and he's displayed an explosive burst to and through the hole. He doesn't have natural hands out of the backfield, but he's still a very intriguing prospect. His career at A&M was marred by injuries and a few off-field issues, but his stock is on the rise. I talked to one team that has him graded in the second round.
Terron Armstead, OL, Arkansas-Pine Bluff: Small-school players have the potential to benefit the most in an all-star setting. After watching these players dominate weaker competition, scouts are anxious to see them perform against top-tier, Division I talent. Armstead looks like he belongs. He is a powerful run blocker and has the base to anchor down against the bull rush in pass protection. He is probably better suited to play guard at the next level, but he also has a chance at right tackle. His play this week could earn him a slot in next week's Senior Bowl.
Brandon McGee, CB, Miami: McGee has been impressive all week long. He has quick feet, fluid hips and he's made several plays on the ball. He has been the top cornerback by a good margin. Several teams have him slotted in the third/fourth-round area.
Wes Horton, DE, USC: Horton wasn't a dominating player on tape, but he's having an outstanding week of East-West practices. He is very long and athletic. He's slithery in pass-rush drills and shows the ability to wrap around blocks in the run game. Horton needs to get stronger, but there is a lot to work with in this prospect.
Lucas Reed, TE, New Mexico: Reed was quiet earlier in the week, but he had an excellent practice on Wednesday. He has outstanding size (6-foot-6, 250 pounds) and displays the ability to adjust to the ball down the field. He comes from good genes -- his brother is Houston Texans OLB Brooks Reed -- and teams left Wednesday's practice anxious to study more tape on the big tight end.