Peyton Manning vs. Ryan Leaf: 11 years later
I love visiting Sports Illustrated’s vault and reading the old sports stories. I love their sports writing (even, sometimes, that of the hopelessly-pompous Rick Reilly, who’s now at ESPN). Recently, I came across this article from April 1998 where the talent of NFL quarterbacks-to-be Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf were evaluated. The general concensus seemed to be that Manning, the older brother of Eli and the son of Archie*, would have a good NFL career and had an edge on Leaf, who was destined for NFL greatness also. In that 1998 draft, Manning was taken first overall by the Indianapolis Colts while the San Diego Chargers with the second pick took Leaf. I remember hearing a few people say the Colts had made a colossal mistake and should’ve taken Leaf.
Fast-forward 11 years and you find Manning with multiple Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl ring while Leaf (mockingly dubbed “Cryin'” Leaf by sports talk show host Jim Rome) is out of football. He retired at 26 after having been on several teams. He is widely considered one of the biggest busts in NFL draft history.
* I am convinced that if he’d been drafted by a better team (such as one with a line that could give him time to throw), Archie Manning probably would be in the NFL Hall of Fame today. That being said, I’ve heard him provide color commentary during New Orleans Saints games, and it’s obvious the senior Manning knows football.