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Would Ryan Leaf Have Still Been A Bust If The Colts Had Drafted Him?

It's possible that Ryan Leaf would not have turned into the poster boy for "bust" if he'd been drafted by the Colts in 1998.

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

In light of the recent information former agent Leigh Steinberg noted in his new book, I'm wondering if former Chargers quarterback and No. 2 overall pick Ryan Leaf would have ended up the poster boy for "draft bust" if he'd been selected by the Colts instead.

Yes, Leaf had, and still has, issues. Many of us do. Several players have played - and likely still play - for the Colts with drug and/or behavioral issues. The team's owner, Jim Irsay, has had his own public battle with addiction.

No franchise sports a roster full of angels, and lots of good, honest, hard-working people struggle with addiction and personal problems every day.

If you think about what the Colts had in 1998, both in terms of the organization's structure and in the quality of the coaches they had employed then, I really wonder if Ryan Leaf would have busted if he'd been drafted No. 1 overall by Indianapolis. He may very well have developed into a top tier quarterback.

Maybe he'd still be playing today.

Don't get me wrong. Peyton Manning was and is unquestionably the better option than Leaf, but I think it's a bit shortsighted to think that Peyton would have developed into the phenom that he is today irregardless of what franchise he went to in 1998. The Colts were the perfect place for a young QB like Manning or Leaf to land at back then. The Chargers, not so much.


  • The Colts had Bruce Arians on staff as the quarterbacks coach and Tom Moore as the offensive coordinator. Both men are considered today to be some of the greatest offensive minds this game has ever seen. Howard Mudd was the offensive line coach as well.
  • Marshall Faulk and Marvin Harrison were on the roster in 1998. One is in the Hall of Fame already, and one is soon to be. There was no one even close to their caliber on the offensive side of the ball in San Diego back then. Their top receiver in '98 was Freddie Jones and their leading rusher was Natrone Means.
  • Bill Polian, widely considered one of the greatest football general managers ever, and Jim Mora were in charge of the front office and the coaching staff, providing stability and a solid plan for rebuilding. Then-Chargers G.M. Bobby Beathard fired his head coach, Kevin Gilbride, six weeks into the 1998 season despite giving him a rookie quarterback and little-to-no talent on offense.

It's important to note that, despite Leaf's many issues, he is known as an intelligent person who, at one point, possessed tremendous talent. If he'd had an understanding owner, strong positional coaching, and a stable front office perhaps his life would not have spiraled so completely out of control.

It's an interesting thing to speculate about. In the end, Manning was the better quarterback and went on to accomplish great things. I can't help but wonder if Leaf could have gone on to do similar things if he'd just landed with the right franchise.