So much for Manti Te’o's off the field issues affecting his marketability. The former Notre Dame linebacker and college football’s most decorated defensive player of all-time has the top selling jersey among NFL rookies according to ESPN’s Darren Rovell despite the off the field issues that have dogged him since Notre Dame’s BCS Championship loss to Alabama.
Te’o's draft stock took a hit for both on and the off the field issues following Notre Dame’s 42-21 loss to Alabama in the Discover BCS National Championship in January. Te’o looked over matched at times against the Crimson Tide along with the rest of the Fighting Irish in Notre Dame’s disappointing showing in Miami casting doubt about his readiness for the NFL despite collecting more off-season awards in a single season than any defender in college football history on the heels of Notre Dame’s perfect 12-0 2012 season.
Following Te’o's, and Notre Dame’s disappointing BCS showing, the all-time Notre Dame great then failed to impress scouts at the NFL combine with a sub-par 40 yard dash time. Te’o rebounded slightly with a more impressive showing at Notre Dame’s Pro Day, but it was not enough to get him back into the first round after he was considered a sure fire first round pick earlier in the season.
Since landing in San Diego as the Chargers 2nd round pick, however, things have rebounded quite well for the Hawaiian native. Chargers personnel and teammates have had nothing but positive things to say about Te’o on the field, in the meeting room, and in the locker room since he arrived in San Diego and all indications are that Te’o could very well have an instant impact for the Chargers.
Today’s news also confirms that Te’o hasn’t lost too many fans despite his bizarre off the field issues from earlier this year. Part of the reason for strong jersey sales compared to other NFL rookies this year can partly be contributed to a lack of elite skill position talent in this year’s draft. Offensive and defensive linemen dominated the first round and the big hosses in trenches historically don’t sell jerseys.
Still, Te’o ranking #1 in rookie jersey sales at this point in the season at least offers somewhat of an affirmation that fans don’t really care about the whole girlfriend hoax/catfish scheme that Te’o was victim to – especially when you consider that the San Diego fan base is not necessarily known for its strong support for their local team and yearly blackout statistics will back that up.
Hopefully for Te’o this is just the first of many positive news stories about him as he looks to pick up the pieces from his off-field fiasco and get back to doing what he spent the majority of the 2012 season doing – being a dominate, game changing middle linebacker for the San Diego Chargers.
From Notre Dame’s perspective, having an impact defensive rookie on the NFL level would provide further validation for the transformation that has taken place in South Bend over the last few years with the Irish defense which has gone from a punch-line for much the earlier part of this decade to a knock-out puncher in it’s own right.