Chargers Draft

NFL Draft: Ryan Leaf is not the biggest draft bust in history

3 Dec 2000: Ryan Leaf #16 of the San Diego Chargers reacts during the game against the San Francisco 49ers at the Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California. The 49ers defeated the Chargers 44-17.Mandatory Credit: Stephen Dunn /Allsport
3 Dec 2000: Ryan Leaf #16 of the San Diego Chargers reacts during the game against the San Francisco 49ers at the Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California. The 49ers defeated the Chargers 44-17.Mandatory Credit: Stephen Dunn /Allsport
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As the NFL draft approaches each year, fans of the Los Angeles Chargers likely still have bad flashbacks of the time the team drafted Ryan Leaf.

Leaf was an absolutely dreadful pick, despite appearing to be a “sure thing” after putting up monster numbers at Washington State. But calling him inept as a professional would be too nice.

In three seasons with the Chargers, Leaf, the No. 2 overall pick of the 1998 draft, completed just 48 percent of his passes and only had 14 touchdown passes while throwing 36 interceptions in 18 games. He missed the entire 1999 season due to a shoulder injury.

But it wasn’t just what Leaf did on the field. His off-field antics which included arguments with fans, reporters and team management that turned became so infamous, some are a never-ending joke.

As bad as Leaf was, and there is no doubting that, I am pretty tired of hearing that he was the “biggest bust” in draft history. In fact, so many people say that is the case that any time you hear the word bust in relation to the draft, you automatically picture Leaf.

But he wasn’t the biggest bust, even if USA TODAY says he is.

Leaf was bad and the poor taste he left in the mouths of Chargers fans might lead many of them to agree that he was the worst draft pick in history. But he was the No. 2 overall pick that year and to the Chargers’ defense, the Indianapolis Colts may have even given some thought to taking Leaf over Peyton Manning, had they listened to this advice.

Had they made that choice, then Leaf would be the worst pick in history. But here’s why he’s not.

Tony Mandarich, who appeared in 86 games during his career with the Green Bay Packers and Colts, is a worse No. 2 overall pick than Leaf. The Packers drafted him second overall in 1989 and the list of players that were drafted after him is incredible.

That list includes Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas, Deion Sanders and Steve Atwater. No typos there.

The Colts took Steve Emtman, a defensive end out of Washington, No. 1 overall in 1992 and if you’re asking yourself “who”? it’s for good reason. He finished his career with eight sacks.

But if you want a quarterback that was worse, give me Leaf over JaMarcus Russell with no hesitation.

Russell was the No. 1 overall choice of the 2007 draft, famously taken by Al Davis and the Oakland Raiders. Davis became smitten with the big LSU product, but he lasted just three seasons in the league before washing out forever.

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Other teams (Tampa Bay, Dallas and Seattle) gave Leaf another chance. No other team ever even so much as invited Russell to training camp after he was released by the Raiders in May 2010. For his career, Russell completed 52 percent of his passes with 18 touchdowns while turning the ball over 38 times.

Statistically, he’s in the same boat as Leaf. But the fact that no other team ever gave him another chance and he never played another down after 2009 is telling. In fact, it’s all the evidence I need to call him a bigger bust than Leaf.

Leaf was no angel and he certainly wasn’t a good quarterback. The team’s selection of him set the franchise back several years and the damage of such a poor pick (one the team traded up for) was lasting.

But let’s stop branding Leaf as the biggest draft bust ever because he just wasn’t.

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