Peyton and Leaf: What can GMs take away from the story of the 1998 draft


Oscar Hayes, Contributing Writer

Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf. If you are a football fan, then you probably know Peyton Manning as one of the greatest QBs of all time. You might  also remember Ryan Leaf as one of the biggest draft busts of all time. A draft bust in simple terms is a player who is anticipated to perform exceptionally but ends up being not as good as expected. Ryan Leaf is a prime example of this. When you are talking about draft busts, Ryan Leaf is the first person that comes to mind. This is the story of Peyton and Leaf. 

These two quarterbacks were stars coming out of college, each in heavy consideration for the number one pick. One was going to the Colts and one was going to the Chargers. Now, who would you choose? Well, if you knew how each of these QBs turned out in the NFL then you would obviously pick Manning. However, before they started their NFL careers, this would have been a very tough choice. Let’s look at their stats for their last year in college. Manning at Tennessee posted over 3800 yards, 36 TDs, and 11 ints. Leaf on the other hand at Washington State had over 3900 yards, 34 TDs, and 11 ints. It was clearly a tough choice for both teams. Even the public was split 50/50 on who should go number one. What made each QB special? Well, Leaf was known for his strong arm and great accuracy, while Manning was known to be more mature and NFL-ready. The Colts especially liked Manning because he impressed them in his interview, while Leaf ended up missing it. 

It’s the 1998 NFL draft and the Colts select Peyton Manning first overall. This pick was not surprising at all since, like mentioned before, the Colts really liked Peyton when they interviewed him. Now it was obvious that the Chargers were going to pick Leaf. The Chargers, just to be safe, decided to trade up from the number three pick to the number two pick. And they, not surprisingly, selected Leaf. So, what went wrong with Leaf and what went right with Manning?

First of all, Manning and Leaf were two completely different people. Peyton would stay up all night studying film for his next game while Ryan would stay up all night partying. As Jay Posner of the San Diego Tribune said years later “That [Ryan Leaf’s tendency to slack off] should have been a red flag.”He was right. QBs like Johnny Manziel who party all night instead of studying and preparing never turn out well. So, how did Leaf’s career turn out?

Leaf was named the week 1 starter. The Chargers started the season 2-0. However, despite winning both games, Leaf was really not playing well. Over the two games he had 371 passing yards, 1 touchdown, 2 interceptions, and a 52% completion percentage. Not the stats the Chargers wanted out of him, but he was a rookie so the Chargers were just happy that he led them to wins. These wins didn’t last long. From 9/20-10/11 came a brutal 4 game stretch. In those 4 weeks he had 435 passing yards, a horrendous 9 interceptions, and no touchdowns. His worst game was in September when they were playing their divisional rival, the Chiefs. He only played for about a quarter of the game because he had 1 completion on 15 attempts not to mention he had two interceptions. By the end of the season he had amassed a 3-7 record. He had a TD to INT ratio of 2-15. Not good, not good at all. In the end Ryan Leaf only got to play three years in the NFL(they weren’t even full years), and ended his career with a 4-17 record. Safe to say he was not worth the 2nd overall pick.

Peyton Manning on the other hand had one of the greatest careers in NFL history! With 14 pro bowls, 5 MVPs, and 2 Super Bowls, Manning is now considered to be one of the greatest NFL players of all time. He has had a polar opposite career to Leaf. It is safe to say that the Colts made the right choice drafting Manning.

What can GMs and fans all take away from this? Well, we learned that before drafting we must look at the player as a whole. Don’t just think of how talented he is, think of what he will bring to the locker room. The Colts knew that Manning would work hard, play hard, and do everything to win. That is something you want out of a team leader and something you should look for in every player you draft. GMs in all different sports can learn from this story.