Manti Te’o’s draft stock could take a hit after the former Notre Dame linebacker was apparently ensnared in a hoax surrounding his “girlfriend,” Lennay Kekua.
Considered a first-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, Te’o may be more unattractive to NFL teams following revelations that Kekua was a hoax purportedly penetrated by his friend, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo.
Te’o released a statement acknowledging that he found out Kekua, whom he had an online and telephone relationship with, didn’t exist, and claimed he was a victim of a hoax. The former Notre Dame linebacker said he was not part of the ruse.
Te’o had been known as much for his leadership qualities as his ability on the football field. During Note Dame’s road to the 2013 BCS National Championship, Te’o’s personal story made headlines after he announced earlier this year that Kekua died of leukemia hours after his grandmother passed away.
How will the Lennay Kekua hoax affect Te’o’s draft stock?
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Gil Brandt, an NFL draft consultant, said the situation is unprecedented. When NFL prospects see their draft stock slide due to character issues, it’s usually related to an arrest or criminal behavior.
Brandt said he projected Te’o to be picked in the middle of the first round before the hoax was uncovered Wednesday by Deadspin.
“I think some teams will say it isn’t worth the problem” of picking Te’o at all, never mind the first round, Brandt told the Associated Press.
Te’o may slide a full round because of the hoax, wrote Matt Miller, NFL Draft lead writer for Bleacher Report. Miller quoted unnamed NFL players for the draft projection.
“(I) don’t think the casual or even hard-core draft people understand how big this is. Could be devastating. Like worse than finding injury/illness,” one player told Bleacher Report.
As one of the most recognizable faces in college football this year, Te’o was poised to pick up a slew of endorsements once he begins his NFL career.
David Schwab of the sports management firm Octagon told the AP that he doesn’t see Te’o’s endorsement opportunities diminishing in the long term if the linebacker’s contention that he was a victim of the hoax is confirmed.
"If he truly had nothing to do with it, I think the long-term damage is zero," Schwab told the wire service.
But short term, Te’o can’t expect to gain any endorsements, because any media attention would also attract questions about the hoax – something companies tied to him would not want.