January 21, 2013 at 7:10 pm

Terry Foster

Draft prospect Te'o is a distraction the Lions cannot afford

Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o will appear in an interview with Katie Couric on her show Thursday. (Ryan Jones/Associated Press)

Katie Couric trumped Oprah, and that's not easy to do.

Couric will get the on-camera interview with Manti Te'o that everyone wants to see. She will sit down with the former Notre Dame linebacker and his family in an interview to be aired on her show Thursday.

The Te'o story is so bizarre that it knocked Lance Armstrong and his interview with Oprah off the map. Te'o is not only hot news, but he's also in a hot mess, which brings me to my main point: Even if Te'o slips to the third round of this spring's NFL draft, the Lions should pass on him.

There is too much noise surrounding Te'o for the Lions to handle. Do you remember how distractions and off-field incidents derailed the team last season? There were arrests for drugs, booze and bad driving. I'm convinced that created a distracted team and contributed to the Lions' 4-12 record.

I bring Te'o up now because this is the guy many Lions fans wanted before he got faked out by Alabama for the national championship and fell for a fake girlfriend. Lions fans believed his character, hustle and leadership would bring a Chris Spielman element to the dressing room.

He is a good linebacker; He is not great. Te'o is somewhere between the guy that bounced off tackles against the Crimson Tide and the guy who bounced around Michigan, Michigan State and the other also rans of college football.

I believe Te'o is more gullible than you want your play-calling middle linebacker to be. He says he got caught up in an online hoax. Maybe he did and you chalk it up to a young guy not knowing any better.

Plenty of baggage

But unless he is completely exonerated Te'o poses a few problems. He will bring a lot of attention to the Lions. It is the type of publicity the team does not need. You only want ESPN and Sports Illustrated coming to town when you are on a six-game winning streak or about to play the 49ers in the NFC championship game. You don't want them poking around trying to find out if your starting linebacker is a head case.

"We need to dig in and find out what happened," an NFL scout told the Los Angeles Times last week. "Why didn't he just step up and say something? I understand he was completely embarrassed, but it does raise some questions regarding his maturity regarding relationships, emotional stability, naivet and just social awareness."

Te'o is not worth the risk. He plays middle linebacker — a position that garners a lot of statistics but is not as important a position as it once was. If he were a quarterback, people would look the other way. Te'o won't come in and change the Lions culture or their defense. He won't be a dominant player in the NFL.

He makes more sense for teams like the New York Giants, New England Patriots or San Francisco 49ers. They can either bring him along slowly or he will just be part of a very productive system. There will be less pressure on those teams than with the Lions. He'd expected to be a savior here and that won't happen.

"I don't know the whole case, but I always advise people to face up and just talk to the people and say what happened," former NFL coach Tony Dungy told reporters. "The truth is the best liberator. So that's what I would do and he's going to be forced to.

"If I was still coaching and we're thinking about taking this guy in the first round, you want to know, not exactly what happened but what is going on with this young man and is it going to be a deterrent to him surviving in the NFL and playing well."

He might survive someplace else. Detroit just isn't that spot.

tfoster@detnews.com

twitter.com/terryfoster971

More Terry Foster