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Mike O'Hara: Despite recent headlines, Notre Dame Manti Te'o remains the top middle linebacker

Posted Jan 18, 2013

Notre Dame middle linebacker Manti Te'o is a highly regarded prospect in this year's NFL draft. That isn't likely to change from now until the first round begins on April 25

Manti Teo

Depending on what you believe in the "No Dame" saga involving Manti Te'o, the Notre Dame linebacker is either a punch line, a punching bag, a dupe, the victim or a co-conspirator in the hoax of a girlfriend who never existed.

Not incidentally, Te'o is a highly regarded prospect in this year's NFL draft. That isn't likely to change from now until the first round begins on April 25.

Te'o remains the top-rated middle linebacker in the draft. Before Alabama thrashed Notre Dame, 42-14, in the BCS national championship game on Jan. 7, the general buzz around the NFL was that at best, Te'o was regarded as a mid first-round prospect.

We've all had our fun, myself included, in the Twitterverse in rushing to set world land-speed records in judging and harpooning Te'o for whatever role he had in the bizarre fabrication of a nonexistent girlfriend, but talent wins out over all else in pro sports.

Quarterback Michael Vick was signed back in the NFL by the Philadelphia Eagles after serving a prison sentence for his role in a dog-fighting enterprise because of his talent.

Wide receiver Donte Stallworth did a short jail sentence and was suspended by the NFL for the 2009 season after being convicted of DUI manslaughter. He since has played for the Ravens (2010), Redskins (2011) and Patriots (2012).

And if Te'o proves to be a blameless victim in this case, he won't be the first human being to be scammed for love or money – or both.

In the first round of Mock Drafts that came out this week, there was a consensus on Te'o in one area: he'll be the first middle linebacker drafted. After that, opinions varied on how high he'll go.

The highest was eighth to Buffalo by Charles Davis of NFL.com and Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN.

Gil Brandt, the legendary personnel director for the Dallas Cowboys, projected Te'o going 19th overall to the Giants.

NFL teams are certain to want to hear what Te'o has to say when they interview him at the Combine in Indianapolis next month, and in personal visits leading up to the draft.

Agents prepare their players for those 15-minute sessions, and personnel people tell you that most of the answers sound like the players are reading from a script.

In the case of Te'o, I wouldn't mind sitting in on all 32.
 
Lions at 5: This year's draft is absent of a superstar at the top, but it suits the Detroit Lions because of depth on defense.

By most projections, the top four defensive players are defensive ends Bjoern Werner of Florida State and Damontre Moore of Texas A&M, outside linebacker Jarvis Jones of Georgia and cornerback Dee Milliner of Alabama.

Two offensive linemen are rated among the top prospects – tackle Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M and guard Chance Warmack of Alabama.

Joeckel and at least one of the defensive ends, Werner or Moore, will go before the Lions pick at No. 5.

Warmack will walk into somebody's training camp ready to start, but teams are reluctant to draft guards that high. The premium early is on players who help score touchdowns and prevent touchdowns. Guards and centers fall below offensive tackles on offense.

Based on his program height and weight – 6-1, 198 – Milliner has the size the Lions are looking at in a cornerback.

Because of his size, Milliner has been compared to Bears cornerback Charles Tillman. However, the knock on him is that he has only one season as a full-time starter, and that he lacks elite speed.

Milliner isn't rated in the class of Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson, who was drafted fifth overall out of LSU in 2011, but he'd upgrade the Lions' secondary.

There is a lot to consider before the Lions make their pick on April 25, but as of today, my pick etched in sand – with the tide rolling in – is defensive end Damonte Moore of Texas A&M, unless Bojern Werner is on the board.

Subject to change.

Devin Thomas: Thomas, who signed a futures contract with the Lions on Thursday, was highly rated going into the 2008 draft because of one big season at Michigan State.

He had 79 catches for 1,260 yards and eight TDs, and most mock drafts projected him to be the first receiver drafted in '08 – as high as 11th overall to Buffalo.

The '08 draft turned out to be the year of the receiver – in the second round, not the first.

No receiver was taken in the first round, but 10 went in the second, starting with Donnie Avery as the first pick of the round. Thomas went to Washington with the next pick. Other receivers taken in the second round were Jordy Nelson and DeSean Jackson.

Thomas played for three teams in four pro seasons and was out of football in 2012. He has 43 career receptions and three TDs.

Gonzalez vs. Hanson: Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez was in tears after the Falcons beat Seattle in the NFC divisional playoff round last week. Gonzalez is one of the greatest tight ends in history, with 1,242 career catches, most by a tight end and second to Jerry Rice among players at any position.

Gonzalez had played 254 regular-season games without playing in a winning playoff game. The FOX network announcers touted that as the most ever by a player.

Actually, the most games played without a playoff win is 327, by Detroit Lions kicker Jason Hanson. He came to the Lions in 1992, the year after they beat Dallas in the NFC divisional round.

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