Are the Ryan Leaf Comparisons Fair to Johnny Manziel?

Amy DaughtersFeatured ColumnistJuly 21, 2013

Both photos from Getty Images
Both photos from Getty ImagesMike Zarrilli/Getty Images

Just this past week, Sports Illustrated columnist Peter King opened up his “Monday Morning QB” piece with a section entitled, “(Johnny Manziel) Just a kid sowing some oats? Or Ryan Leaf II?”

Seriously, of all the jabs Johnny Football has taken this offseason what could be worse than comparisons to Ryan Leaf?

Harsh indeed to be compared to the head case from Washington State who bombed out in the NFL.

Since leaving football, Leaf has suffered a string of legal issues including drug use, burglary and behavioral problems which have led to arrests and periods of incarceration. Manziel has had his issues with authority, but is no where near Leaf territory

But before everyone takes the lead of the national media and begins frolicking in the field of Manziel bashing, is it really fair to compare him to Leaf?

Fans and media members need to be sure to remember that Leaf and Manziel are two very different QBs who may or may not share some of the same character traits.  It is also important to realize that one of these guys is only 20 and is not yet done maturing. 

So, what do Leaf and Manziel have in common and what separates the two?



Manziel and Leaf put up similar passing numbers  in their best season (or only season where Manziel is concerned) as a starter. Manziel passed for 3,706 yards and 26 touchdowns in 2012, while Leaf racked up 3,968 yards and 34 touchdowns in 1997. 

What’s more likely to draw attention in a comparison of the two are the similar personality traits.

First among these is the extreme level of confidence both displayed at a young age.

While Manziel looked almost unflappable as a freshman facing giants like Alabama on the road, now-deceased NFL draft expert Joel Bushbaum evaluated Leaf as—according to a 2003 New York Times article—“very self-confident, to the point where some people view him as arrogant and almost obnoxious.”

Whether Manziel will amp up his confidence as he nears his own NFL draft, consider his handling of questions about his tumultuous offseason at SEC Media Days.


Next are the similarities in terms of living the party life.  While there is no way to say that Manziel’s good times will end in the addictions that Leaf has suffered, there is also no way to say they won’t.

Especially if no one checks Manziel and helps him to curb the partying.

Lastly, there is the angle of irresponsibility, which Manziel is beginning to show more as time goes on.

While Leaf was fined for missing the last day of a meeting required of all NFL draftees in 1998, Manziel completely blew off—for whatever reasons—the Saturday morning session of this year’s Manning passing camp.

Again, it remains to be seen if Manziel’s accountability issues will fester to the degree that Leaf’s ultimately did, but the groundwork has been laid.



From an on-field perspective, Manziel and Leaf are separated by the former’s running ability.

Manziel ran for 1,410 yards as a freshman, while Leaf lost 171 rushing yards during his career at Washington State. The other pointed difference between the two is their level of experience. Manziel has one college season under his belt. Leaf has three years as a collegian and four as a pro.

Yes, we are comparing a 37-year-old man who has had time to totally screw up to a 20-year-old kid who is just getting started in his career.


This makes every comparison fall short simply because Leaf’s behaviors are repeated over a six-year period, and Manziel’s are limited to fewer than 12 months.

The other interesting way to compare the two is look at how their teams fared in college.

Though Manziel definitely has a huge edge with his Heisman, Leaf took his team to a conference title in 1997 and managed two successful seasons as a starter.

This means that if Manziel bombs out in his sophomore season, it could be argued that—minus the Heisman—Leaf was the more successful college quarterback because he sustained his success for longer.

This would be the case even though Manziel was better earlier in his career than Leaf.


Is It Fair?

It’s not fair to compare Manziel to Leaf, especially since the crux of the comparison involves bad behavior as opposed to on-field performance.

Though a solid argument could be made that Manziel could become “Leaf II,” it’s impossible to predict that he absolutely will.

Perhaps the real value in comparing Manziel to Leaf is to provide yet another reason for Johnny Football and Texas A&M to pause and consider what’s at stake.


Indeed, if Manziel and the Aggies could look at the Leaf comparisons as a warning sign and a starting point for real change, then maybe the contrasts are worthwhile.

Yes, perhaps the harsh nature of the comparisons will be the seeds of change that mean Manziel absolutely will not be the 2014 version of Leaf.

For his sake, let’s hope so.