Who is the greatest quarterback of all time? A few names always make the shortlist: Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning. Do you know who you won’t find on the list? Ryan Leaf. The former quarterback experienced obstacles on and off the field during his time in the league. And a recent arrest shows things haven’t completely improved.
Ryan Leaf’s college career
Between 1995 and 1997, Leaf played college football at Washington State. The collegiate version of Leaf was a sight to behold. Over his three-year college career, he managed to make a name for himself. The QB brought the Cougars to the Rose Bowl for the first time in the school’s entire history during his junior year.
Although they ultimately lost to the Michigan Wolverines, the appearance cemented Leaf as a top NFL prospect. Leaf’s college highlights include nearly 7,500 passing yards and 59 touchdowns across three seasons. In 1997 Leaf was named the PAC-10 offensive player of the year, and came in third for Heisman voting before declaring for the NFL draft.
Leaf’s brief time in the NFL
Despite his prolific college career, Leaf’s time in the NFL was anything but stellar. The QB entered the league as the second overall draft pick in 1998, right behind Peyton Manning. Leaf’s first stop on what became a rapid-fire tour of numerous NFL teams was with the San Diego Chargers.
Whatever magic the young quarterback had in college didn’t translate to the pros. His first year with the Chargers was disastrous, details Pro-Football-Reference. While he did produce a modest 1,289 passing yards, he only managed to convert that into two touchdowns all season. All season.
Leaf sat out all of 1999 due to a shoulder injury, and when he returned in 2000, there was a small glimmer of the young quarterback’s collegiate brilliance. He managed almost 2,000 passing yards and 11 touchdowns, but it was too little too late. In 2001, he was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but after an awful first look during preseason, hampered by persistent wrist injuries, he was again traded to the Dallas Cowboys.
Dallas, however, was not the new beginning the young quarterback had hoped for. Generating only 494 passing yards and a single, lonely touchdown pass, Leaf finally threw in the towel and retired.
A rough road ahead for Ryan Leaf
Retirement would not be the fresh start that Leaf so desperately craved either. Leaf quickly fell into chronic opioid dependence and abuse stemming from the prescriptions he’d taken for his numerous wrist and shoulder surgeries.
His life soon hit rock bottom, reports CBS Sports, culminating in a 2009 arrest on burglary charges, followed by a second arrest in 2012 for breaking and entering with intent to steal prescription medication from the homeowner. Leaf spent two years in prison for the crime before he began to turn his life around.
Since his release in 2014, Leaf has set about cleaning up his act. He has been a proud and vocal advocate for recovery programs, and has publicly stated that he’s been sober since going to prison. He’s even engaged in charity work to help fund recovery programs for those who can’t afford help on their own.
In 2017, Leaf made a return to football, this time in the broadcasting booth. He began his second career as an analyst for the PAC 12 network. His charisma and on-the-field knowledge quickly garnered the attention of bigger media outlets, namely ESPN, who gave him a broadcasting role in 2019.
The story of Ryan Leaf isn’t over, but this chapter certainly ends on a cliffhanger. In May of this year, Leaf was arrested on a misdemeanor domestic abuse charge and held on $5,000 bail. While no additional details have been made public, it remains to be seen if Leaf can recover from disaster a second time around.