8:19 PM CDT, April 11, 2013
Two weeks from today, the water cooler is going to be enormously popular in work places all over the Chicago area. That's where Bears fans will convene to debate general manager Phil Emery's second crack at the first round of the NFL draft.
If ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper is right and the Bears choose Manti Te'o with the 20th pick, nobody will get any work done. No player in recent memory has created more of a stir leading up to a draft the way Te'o has.
And much of it for all the wrong reasons.
Te'o's on-line relationship with a dying woman he claimed to love was a hoax. The Notre Dame linebacker was the victim of an elaborate, cruel prank, but Te'o made it worse by not being forthright. He continued to discuss his "loss" long after his phantom girlfriend passed away.
Speculation on Te'o's sexuality ran wild, and the 22-year-old went on national television to tell Katie Couric he isn't gay.
"Far from it," he said, unwittingly subjecting himself to more scrutiny.
At the underwear Olympics in Indianapolis — commonly referred to as the NFL scouting combine — Te'o underwhelmed in the 40-yard dash. On the heels of a crummy performance against Alabama in the national championship game, NFL types raced to reporters (albeit anonymously) to forecast Te'o falling out of the first round and project an exceedingly mortal pro football future for the Hawaii native.
Whichever team drafts Te'o, he's going to make that club glad it did. I don't care much about his 4.8 40 time (which he bettered at Notre Dame's pro day) and am even less curious about his dating habits.
The Te'o I watched on Saturdays last fall was the best defensive player on an Irish team that ran the table in a dozen regular-season games.
Te'o's performance in the Irish's Oct. 27 victory at Oklahoma was heroic. The Sooners, then ranked No. 8, were 111/2-point favorites, only to get whacked 30-13 by Notre Dame, which upped its record to 8-0.
Te'o is stout inside. He reads and reacts quickly. He's a solid form tackler.
Those are the requisite skills necessary to play linebacker on Sundays.
Measuring a player's tangibles can be foolish. Ask those teams that passed on Arizona State's Terrell Suggs, who accrued 24 sacks in his final season, but slipped to 10th in the first round of the 2003 draft because his 40 time wasn't impressive.
Then-Bears GM Jerry Angelo was among those who backed off because of a stopwatch. Angelo traded down so he could scoop up Penn State defensive end Michael Haynes and Florida quarterback Rex Grossman.
Haynes was a bust. Grossman has been serviceable at best. Suggs has had a career with the Ravens that flirts with being Canton-worthy.
Kiper likens Te'o to former Lions and Bills linebacker Chris Spielman. That's high praise. Spielman concluded his Lions career as the team's all-time leader in tackles and bashed his way to four Pro Bowls.
The former Ohio State star slipped to 29th overall. Why? The damn stopwatch.
According to reports, Te'o spent Wednesday interviewing with the Bears in Lake Forest. Maybe they're considering calling his name. Maybe they're setting a trap for somebody who selects after them — like the Vikings, who have the 23rd pick — so they can trade down for multiple picks.
I'm not convinced Te'o is going to be a better pro than Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree, but Te'o is going to author a productive, near-10-year NFL lifespan.
And if it winds up being here, it thickens the plot even more. I never deny rooting for good stories more than results.
It will give the Bears more of a long-term solution at middle linebacker than free agent James Anderson can offer, while also giving Chicago an opportunity to rise above the urge to make Te'o a punchline.
Then again, maybe not. Sarcasm is as predictable as Jay Cutler's body language.
Special contributor Dan McNeil hosts "The McNeil and Spiegel Show" weekdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on WSCR-AM 670.
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