Twenty years after Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf became the first and second overall picks in the draft, one player is largely silent — and the other keeps on talking. But the one who many would say should be talking isn’t, and the one who many would say shouldn’t be talking is.
Leaf, who deserves plenty of credit for turning his life around after a lengthy battle with addiction, has plenty of opinions for a guy who washed out of the league without doing much other than taking millions from the Chargers, millions that could have gone to other far more deserving players. And people keep listening to, and repeating, what Leaf has to say.
Most recently, Ryan Leaf suggested that, of the five guys at the top of the quarterback class in 2018, Baker Mayfield reminds Ryan Leaf the most of the 1998 version of Ryan Leaf.
“A good litmus test for me is always when I listen to radio interviews or TV interviews, I tend to close my eyes and just listen to the voice, and hear the answer. I always say, ‘If it sounds like the 1998 version of Ryan Leaf, there’s definitely a red flag that needs to be raised there,” Leaf said during an appearance on 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland, via the New York Daily News.
My first reaction to these comments were this: Why do we care what Ryan Leaf has to say about anything? Collectively, the media keeps giving a platform and a voice to a guy who did absolutely nothing in the NFL, simply because he turned his life around and because he’s willing to speak on radio and TV. But then I realized that one major positive factor comes from seeing and hearing Leaf in the weeks preceding the draft: It serves as a reminder that, despite all of glowing assessments of draft-eligible players aimed consciously or not at stoking the fire of plausible hope for fans of every team, there will be busts. Plenty of busts. Colossal busts. But the draft experts rarely mention that there will be busts, because they can’t answer the next logical question, “Who will they be?”
Leaf, unlike most of the people who are talking about the incoming draft class, is willing to try to answer that question. Though his method may be far less than scientific, his views merit consideration. Last year, for example, Leaf flagged Deshaun Watson as the most impressive of the incoming quarterbacks, and Leaf was right.
Despite Leaf’s lack of significant playing experience (he started 21 career games), he knows a thing or two about quarterbacks booming or busting because he busted unlike any other. And his most recent comments about Mayfield weren’t the first time Leaf spoke about the 2017 Heisman winner.
“I think, probably, the comparison with me is more appropriate,” Leaf said last month on FOX Sports Radio. “The highly competitive, borderline arrogant, angry individual. . . . The biggest thing for me will be how he deals with failure. That’s where my downfall was, when things began to fall apart, how I was able to deal with that. When the media is on you, you play a bad game, your whole city is on you, that’s where we’ll see where Baker Mayfield is at. . . . Right now there’s no evidence to back up that when things get tough, he won’t break.”
Leaf broke in a more significant and notorious way than most young players ever have. He knows the signs, he knows the patterns. He’s taking his own experiences and he’s trying to predict whether other young quarterbacks are behaving the way he did.
Not that it will matter. As Leaf explained it a year ago on PFT Live, the 1998 version of himself would have ignored any advice the older Ryan Leaf would have offered. But Leaf is providing a useful voice during the typically hype-filled pre-draft process — a voice shaped by the experience of entering the league as a top pick and failing spectacularly.
Others who have done the same should consider doing the same. By embracing and understanding what went wrong for them, draft picks who busted can explain the factors, outline the warning signs, and above all else remind everyone that it’s highly unlikely that, for example, all five quarterbacks expected to be picked in round one will end up making it in the NFL.