Ryan Leaf: The Story Of The Biggest Bust In NFL History

Ryan Leaf is a former NFL quarterback played for the San Diego Chargers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dallas Cowboys, Seattle Seahawks and played college football for the Washington State. He was drafted by the Chargers in 1998 as the No. 2 pick after Peyton Manning in the NFL Draft. Here's Everything You Need To Know About Ryan Leaf.

Who is Ryan Leaf?

Ryan Leaf is a big strong guy, with a great arm and a bright future. He won the 1992 Montana state title with his high school team. Then he went to the University of Washington, to head coach Mike Price, who worked with Drew Bledsoe for a long time.

Ryan Leaf

In his first college season, Ryan averaged 330.6 yards per game and managed to break the PAC-10 Conference record for touchdowns in a season. That same year, Leaf came in third in the Heisman Trophy voting, behind only Charles Woodson and Peyton Manning. Finally, the talented quarterback managed to win the first-ever PAC-10 title for the Cougars and lead the team to the Rose Bowl. (Sports Reference)

These impressive results, of course, caught the attention of NFL scouts. The promising young player from Washington State University decided not to put it off and went to the draft instead of playing another year of college.

Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf. Two of the best candidates for the number one pick in the 1998 draft. Many experts favored Ryan, noting his much stronger arm and great potential. Peyton, on the other hand, looked like the more mature and therefore safer choice. Analysts thought it didn't matter much who was picked first as each of these guys would have a great future in the NFL.

The most forward-thinking scouts noted that Leaf's weight at the scouting convention was 9 pounds more than during his debut season for the Cougars. "That could be a bad sign; it speaks volumes about his self-discipline," he said.

Peyton ended up going to the Colts at number one after all, and San Diego went up to number two pick after QB Leaf. How much did they pay for him? "The San Diego Chargers gave Arizona their No. 3 pick in the first round of this year's draft, a first-round pick next year, a second-round pick and their pro-bowler, running back/receiver/return specialist Eric Mitcalf. The rookie was signed to a four-year, $31.25 million contract. Of that, $11.25 million was a signing bonus. Expensive? Very. But the Chargers' management, like thousands of their fans, like hundreds of NFL experts, thought it was worth it. "What do I expect? A 15-year career, a few trips to the Super Bowl and a parade through Downtown San Diego!" the newly minted NFL quarterback said after the draft ceremony. Afterward, he flew to Las Vegas to celebrate on San Diego Chargers owner Alex Spanos' plane.

What Happened to Ryan Leaf in the NFL?

Ryan Leaf lasted four seasons in the league. 4 seasons full of frustrations, inaccurate passes, interceptions, injuries, penalties and discipline problems. He really was terrible.

After San Diego, Tampa Bay and Dallas Cowboys gave Ryan a second and third chance, respectively, but he didn't take it.

Ryan Leaf Stats. In less than 25 NFL games, Leaf has completed 317 of his 655 passes (48.4%). His touchdown to interception ratio is 14/36. His quarterback rating is 50.

How did Ryan Leaf become one of the biggest draft busts in NFL history?

Former NFL QB Ryan Leaf announced the end of his career at age 26 with no further explanation. It happened just before Seahawks training camp, where he could get another chance at a revival. "He just took the money and ran away. I can't imagine how he can look people in the eye after that," was how his former teammate defensive back Rodney Harrison commented on Leaf's decision.

While still an NFL player, Ryan Leaf was addicted to painkillers. They helped numb the physical pain and escape the mental anguish. Soon the addiction became an addiction. Money was thinning, it was getting harder and harder to get drugs. Eventually it ended the way it was supposed to: Leaf went to jail.

After three years in various penitentiaries, the biggest bust in NFL history was released on December 3, 2014.


What sets Leaf's story apart from others like it is the presence of Peyton Manning. Between the two of them is one draft pick and a chasm in terms of game results. As great and hardworking as one was, so lazy and awful was the other. When Peyton was breaking the record for career passing touchdowns, Ryan was doing his time in Montana State Prison. Leaf was inducted into his own Hall of Fame. You could say he established it. A Hall of Fame of great losers who will never be forgotten. His name will intimidate starting scouts, general managers and first-year pass-rushers. He would be the perfect example of "bust." A man who could have had it all. Fate gave him a great chance to become someone very important in this world, and he just took the money and ran.

Read Also: 20 Facts You Didn't Know About Russell Wilson

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