One has to wonder if halfway through Te’o’s 40 he had time to think about how far he has fallen in the last month. His free fall has taken him from a sure top 10 pick, to a first rounder, and now he stands staring the possibility of being a “second day” draft pick. Regardless, when he finally finished his “dash” he had everyone talking about how his slow time was the ultimate indicator of his future failure in the NFL.
To be completely open and honest, I went into this article expecting to write about the fact that this entire panic about Te’o’s 40 time was completely overblown. How important can .15 seconds be? Well let me put .15 seconds in perspective. The average speed of a blink is .3-.4 seconds. Meaning that .15 seconds is half the amount of time it takes someone to blink. Without becoming too much like John Brinkas (host of sports science on ESPN), it just does not seem possible that half of one blink separates Te’o from greatness.
But, here’s the thing… it does.
Football is no longer just a game of inches, but now we have the technology to understand that it is also a game of milliseconds.
Te’o clocked in at 4.82 seconds officially, which was by no means the slowest 40-time at the combine for a linebacker. Bruce Taylor clocked a slug-like 5.01. However, Taylor is expected to go undrafted, while Te’o was projected to be a top 10 pick until the Lennay Kekua fiasco.
If you were like me and you have watched Ray Lewis or Brian Urlacher still have success in their old age, then you thought that Te’o’s 4.8 couldn’t be SO detrimental. But let me put into perspective just how slow 4.8 actually is for a linebacker.
In 1996 Lewis ran between 4.52-4.59 depending on which source you consult. I know your saying, “But, that was 17 years ago!” However, in 2009 Lewis still clocked a 4.59 at Raven’s practice.
Urlacher ran a 4.59 in the 2000 combine after putting on 20 pounds for his final college game. In 2005 at a Bears practice he clocked a 4.49.
Perhaps the best predictor of Te’o’s future performance is little known Larry English. English was supposed to be a phenomenal linebacker and the Charger’s overlooked the slow 4.82 he ran at the combine. They selected him with the 16th overall pick in the 2009 draft, and in 2012 he gave them a game changing 12 combined tackles for their investment in him.
If you are convinced that a blink of an eye can have such an effect on an NFL prospects future than skip this paragraph. If not read on:
Lawrence taylor ran a 4.5 at the combine. Patrick Willis ran a 4.51 at the combine and a 4.37 at his Ole Miss Pro-Day. Defensive end/OLB Demarcus Ware ran a 4.56 at the combine. But, perhaps the most humbling statistic is the time turned in by recently benched Arizona quarterback John Skelton of 4.85 seconds. That’s right, John Skelton and Manti Te’o are separated by .03 seconds. In that length of time a person travelling at the speed of sound would only be 10 yards into their 40 yard dash. Basically, would you want someone with the speed of John Skelton to be the quarterback of your defense? I don’t think I would. No, I definitely wouldn’t.
Does one bad day at the combine spell a disaster for a career? No. Joe Haden turned in a shocking 4.58 second sprint at the combine, and just as his stock was plummeting he ran a 4.45-4.48 at his Pro-Day. Most importantly, Haden has been far from a bust. Although yet to make a Pro-bowl, he has certainly been a solid cornerback for a bad team.
Basically, Te’o needs to prove that he is not as slow as his combine performance was. In an unforgiving league, teams actually take the best 40 time clocked from the player’s Pro-Day or the combine itself. So, as long as Te’o proves he does not have the same sprint speed as Skelton he could potentially have a great NFL career. However, if he really is only capable of a 4.8, then the future of Te’o is as bright as his candidacy as an E-harmony spokesperson.