Ryan Leaf, All-Time NFL Draft Bust, Hired By ESPN

Ryan Leaf, former NFL quarterback
Cindy Ord / Getty Images

In the 1998 NFL draft, the first two players picked were quarterbacks. The top pick, Peyton Manning, spent nearly two decades as one of the greatest players in NFL history. The second pick, Ryan Leaf, did not.

Leaf, out of Washington State, was drafted by the San Diego Chargers in that draft. Leaf lasted only three seasons with the Chargers, a stint plagued by poor play, injuries, and at least one angry confrontation with a reporter. The Chargers released Leaf in early 2001, and he failed to catch on in subsequent brief stints with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dallas Cowboys.

Things didn’t get much better for Leaf following the end of his playing career. He battled substance abuse problems, leading to multiple arrests and a brief prison stint in 2014 after he was accused of breaking into a private residence to steal prescription drugs.

Now Leaf, who has been clean for several years, has gotten a new job as a college football analyst for ESPN.

Per an Associated Press story published in The Seattle Times, the 43-year-old Leaf will team with play-by-play announcer Clay Matvick on games broadcast on ESPN2 and ESPNU. Leaf previously worked for the Pac-12 Network and had also hosted a show on SiriusXM.

“Ryan has experienced the highs and lows in the game of football, putting him in a position to relate to a wide range of situations players can find themselves in,” Lee Fitting, an ESPN executive, said in a statement announcing Leaf’s hiring.

Leaf told the AP that following his release from prison, he considered several career paths, including law school, the entertainment industry, and broadcasting, and eventually choose the latter.

The man chosen above Leaf in that 1998 draft, Peyton Manning, has resisted overtures for broadcasting opportunities since he retired from the NFL. Per a Yahoo Sports report this week, one reason Manning turned down such opportunities is that he didn’t want to have to analyze his brother Eli, who still plays for the New York Giants, or other players who were his teammates or contemporaries from when he played in the league.

“I saw where Tony Romo said that he always knew that he wanted to be a broadcaster,” Manning said in a recent interview, per Yahoo. “Well, I always knew I wanted to be a football player. That’s all I knew. I was all-in on that job. I didn’t think about anything else while I was playing.”