Number two blues

Ryan Leaf’s sad story continues; plus, Ronnie Brown driving wild in Atlanta
By MATT TAIBBI  |  April 1, 2010

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As we approach NFL draft season, it’s fun to look back at those great draft prospects of yore, the workout warriors and combine heroes who titillated coordinators, coaches, and fans leading up to the big selection day in New York. One of the biggest draft debates of all time involved a pair of quarterbacks — one a Tennessee prodigy with NFL bloodlines named Peyton Manning, and the other a rocket-armed gunslinger from Washington State named Ryan Leaf.

One of those quarterbacks was cerebral, disciplined, cheerful, and a great locker-room presence. The other was the biggest douchebag in recent sports history, dating back at least to Bobby Riggs, and maybe all the way back to Ty Cobb. The two teams at the top of the draft were the Indianapolis Colts and the San Diego Chargers. The Colts — and this is amazing to think about, in retrospect — gave serious consideration to Leaf over Manning. “It was closer than you think,” recalls Colts owner Jim Irsay.

But the Colts were lucky, because their general manager, Bill Polian, had a friend named Joe Tiller, who knew Leaf pretty well, having tried to recruit him to play at Wyoming. “I never saw a high-school kid so full of himself,” Tiller said.

You know the rest. The Colts picked Manning, and Leaf immediately busted, posting some of the worst quarterback performances of all time. The lowlight had to be a game against the Chiefs in which he completed one pass out of 15 attempts, for a total of four yards. His passer rating for that game was said to be a mathematically inexpressible negative number.

He made things worse by routinely exploding at reporters, including one amazing incident in which he screamed at San Diego Union-Tribune beat guy Jay Posner, “Just don’t fucking talk to me, okay? Knock it off!” The resulting oft-played YouTube clip of Junior Seau trying to calm him down is probably the highlight of Junior’s TV career, his new show notwithstanding.

Leaf quickly bounced out of the league and disappeared down the failed-quarterback-prospect rabbit hole, joining such luminaries as Todd Marinovich, Akili Smith, Tim Crouch, and Heath Shuler. But while Shuler resurfaced to become an elected official on Capitol Hill, Leaf ended up with little more than an addiction to painkillers.

He had managed to score himself a job as a quarterbacks coach at West Texas A&M, but last year got busted on various charges of acquiring opioid painkillers illegally. In 2008, Leaf misled several doctors in order to get prescriptions, before breaking into the home of a player who had been prescribed the drugs for an injury, adding burglary to the mix.

Last week, Leaf’s case was finally resolved. He got 10 years of probation, and must complete a lengthy counseling and treatment course in order to stay out of jail. He has since left coaching and is apparently selling vacation packages to corporate clients at a resort somewhere. Give him 17 points on our list.

Browned out
Last week, another number-two overall pick was arrested — this time the 2005 version, Miami Dolphins running back Ronnie Brown — for a DUI.

Not much to report here, except that Brown was driving erratically in Atlanta and blew a .158, which meets the legal definition of “shitfaced” in the state of Georgia (the limit there is .08).

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