April 18, 1998, New York City.....
It was the morning of the 1998 NFL Draft and the eyes of the football world focused on two men that would shape their particular franchises: Tennessee QB Peyton Manning and Washington State QB Ryan Leaf. For weeks, the debate raged on: who was better, and who would be better down the road?
The Indianapolis Colts held the first overall pick; the San Diego Chargers the second. Many experts believed Leaf to be the better passer but Manning to be the better leader as both put up record numbers in college. Many also believed that Leaf would put up better numbers due to his better arm strength and size (6'5'', 240); he won Pac-10 Player of the Year honors in 1997, throwing for a then-conference record 33 touchdowns. People also kept in mind that former No. 1 overall pick and current Patriots Pro Bowl QB Drew Bledsoe also went to Washington State.
When the draft began, the Colts went with Manning and Leaf went to the Chargers.
As the season panned out in 1998, Manning's Colts finished 3-13 and Leaf's Chargers went 4-12 but Manning threw for an NFL rookie record 26 touchdowns, along with setting four other rookie passing records. Manning would go on to rebound from his rookie bumps and lead the 1999 Colts to a 13-3 record and the AFC East title. Meanwhile, Leaf never got out of the box and "bust" was beginning to brand his draft status.
As their careers have gone on over the last decade, it is clear to see that Peyton Manning was the better quarterback. He has started the second most games in NFL history (160) and is on pace to break every career passing record. And oh yeah: he's won his "Big Game," winning Super Bowl XLI in 2007 and garnering MVP honors.
As for Leaf, he has been dubbed the biggest draft bust in NFL history. His infamous profanity-laced tirade in his locker room to a reporter after a loss sealed his fate. These days, the 32-year-old can be seen on the sidelines of West Texas A&M University as its head coach.
Leaf's failures would haunt the Chargers until 2001 when they drafted running back LaDanian Tomlinson with the second overall selection out of Texas Christian University and quarterback Drew Brees out of Purdue with the 33rd selection. Since then, the Chargers have been one of the NFL's most successful and dominant overall organizations.
So who was really better? Check the numbers for yourself.
Career Passing: 41,626 yards, 306 TD/153 int, 94.7 rating
160 consecutive starts
8 time Pro Bowler
2 time NFL MVP
Super Bowl XLI MVP
6 consecutive 4000+ yard passing seasons
Career Passing: 3,666 yards, 14 TD/36 int, 50.0 rating
Will there ever be another Peyton Manning? Only history can dictate that but as for the next Ryan Leaf? Though I feel bad for the guy, he's not alone in a long line of quarterback busts.