NFL

NFL What Ifs: What if the Colts had picked Ryan Leaf instead of Peyton Manning?

By Sports Desk March 31, 2020

Heading into the 1998 NFL Draft, the Indianapolis Colts had what was deemed to be a tricky choice to make.

Armed with the first overall pick, new team president Bill Polian had two quarterbacks to choose from: Peyton Manning – the son of a former NFL player who starred at the University of Tennessee – or Ryan Leaf, the big man with a strong arm who had decided to leave Washington State a year early to enter the league.

History, of course, tells us the Colts made the correct call.

Manning spent 14 seasons in Indianapolis, his hugely successful spell with the team including leading them to glory in Super Bowl XLI. His jersey number (18) was retired by the franchise, while there is a statue of him at the team's Lucas Oil Stadium.

The San Diego Chargers, meanwhile, claimed Leaf at two. Their marriage did not run so smoothly – or last too long (three seasons, to be precise). He played just 25 games in a career that also included a stop in Dallas, throwing 14 touchdowns and 36 interceptions, and is regarded as one of – if not the – biggest draft busts.

But what if Leaf had gone first instead? Let's start at the beginning…

 

THE COLTS

Having the first pick was the ideal building block for Polian, who was always going to hand new head coach Jim Mora a rookie QB to work with.

Manning started from the outset with the Colts. There were early teething problems and he finished his debut season with a 3-13 record, throwing more interceptions (28) than touchdowns (26).

However, the chance to learn on the job aided his development. The Colts went on to make the playoffs in the next two seasons and while 2001 was not so successful, a 6-10 campaign led to the arrival of Tony Dungy as head coach and, well, the rest is history.

Whether Leaf would have developed in the same circumstances has to be considered doubtful with how his career panned out, but Indianapolis would have at least afforded him time in which to prove himself.

They also had two rather useful pieces to help, as a running back by the name of Marshall Faulk and a wide receiver called Marvin Harrison were already on the roster.

Had Leaf still flamed out in a similar timeframe with the Colts – it should be pointed out he missed his second season in San Diego through injury - they may well have used the 2001 draft to find a replacement. The Chargers did exactly that, using the 32nd pick on Drew Brees.

THE CHARGERS

Here is where an alternative NFL timeline gets seriously interesting.

Manning as a Charger may not have blossomed in time to keep head coach Kevin Gilbride in a job – he was fired midway through the 1998 season, his second at the helm – but he may well have been the key to keeping the team in San Diego.

Owner Dean Spanos moved the Chargers to Los Angeles after an unsuccessful attempt to get a new stadium built. A failure to secure tax-payer funding led to relocation in 2017.

Surely, though, the presence of Manning could have made a difference. On-field success - perhaps even a Super Bowl triumph like the one the Colts enjoyed - could have led to them getting the backing required to stay put.

Instead, L.A. is now home, though they have so far struggled in competition with the Rams to attract fans. There have even been rumours that the Chargers could move again soon, this time overseas to become the NFL's permanent residents in London.

And what of Brees? Manning's presence would have made picking another QB a waste of draft resources. In 2001, the team to next take a player at the position after the Chargers were the Cowboys, meaning Drew could well have gone on to become a star in Dallas instead.

THE 2004 DRAFT

Of course, there is another Manning whose career would have changed if you take a sliding doors approach to the '98 draft.

After life with Leaf failed to pan out, the Chargers had better luck with Brees before then moving on to Philip Rivers.

However, they selected Peyton's younger brother Eli with the first pick in 2004, rather than Rivers, even though the former Ole Miss quarterback never had any intention of playing for them.

Eli ended up in New York with the Giants in a trade that saw Rivers, who was drafted at four, head in the opposite direction. The next QB taken that year? Ben Roethlisberger, who went to the Pittsburgh Steelers at 11. The Buffalo Bills also used their first-round pick on the position, opting for J.P. Losman after moving up to 22.

Yet had Peyton's place been in San Diego, several notable signal callers selected early in 2004 could have ended up in different locations to begin their pro careers.

Related items

  • Texans DE Watt says asking for extension would be ‘wrong move’ Texans DE Watt says asking for extension would be ‘wrong move’

    J.J Watt has put together a Hall of Fame resume and been the face of the Houston Texans franchise for the last decade.

    The star defensive end, however, is not about to ask the Texans to restructure his contract, despite having two years and no guaranteed money left on his deal. 

    "I'm going out there to prove what I'm worth," Watt said during a conference call on Wednesday. "And I believe that's the right situation for everybody.

    "I think if I went back and asked for an extension, more money, anything right now, I think that would be the wrong move."

    The 31-year-old Watt is signed for the next two seasons, with non-guaranteed base salaries of $15.5million in 2020 and $17.5million in 2021.

    He is a five-time Pro Bowler and a three-time AP Defensive Player of the Year award winner, but Watt realises he does not have much leverage for trying to negotiate a new deal given his health the past few seasons. 

    After playing all 16 games his first five NFL seasons, he appeared in more than eight games just once in the last four. He missed eight games last season with a torn pectoral muscle but was able to return in time for the playoffs. 

    “I think that I fully understand and respect the situation that I’m in at the moment and what's happened in the past few years," he said. "So I’m not going to sit here and demand anything.”"

    That could change, however, if Watt stays healthy in 2020 and returns to his Pro Bowl form. 

    "I'm just going out there and trying to prove my worth, help this team win games, and doing everything I can to earn and make sure that these people know that I’m worth it," he said. 

  • On this day in sport: Messi secures treble as Lomu makes his mark On this day in sport: Messi secures treble as Lomu makes his mark

    Lionel Messi delivered a moment of history for Barcelona on this day in 2009, as Manchester United lost the Champions League final in Rome.

    Arsene Wenger also has fond memories of May 27 from his Arsenal career, having achieved an unprecedented FA Cup feat at Wembley three years ago.

    Shane Watson powered Chennai Super Kings to 2018 IPL glory, while back in 1995, the great Jonah Lomu scored the first tries of a famous New Zealand career.

    Join us in looking back on some memorable moments from this day in years gone by.

     

    1995 – Jonah Lomu scores his first tries for New Zealand

    One of rugby union's all-time most famous faces made his mark on this day back in 1995.

    Lomu scored his first two tries for New Zealand as they claimed a 43-19 win over Ireland in a Pool C clash at the Rugby World Cup in Johannesburg.

    He finished the tournament as joint-top try-scorer on seven as the All Blacks reached the final, where they were famously beaten by hosts South Africa.

    Lomu tragically died at the age of 40 in November 2015.

    2018 – Shane Watson scores unbeaten century as Chennai Super Kings win the IPL

    It is two years since a spectacular innings from Watson secured Indian Premier League glory for Chennai Super Kings.

    Questioned for putting their faith in a squad of players approaching the end of their careers, it was fitting that Chennai's triumph would be sealed by 36-year-old Watson's unbeaten 117 from 57 balls.

    Watson hit eight sixes and 11 fours to dominate the contest, the Super Kings easing to an eight-wicket win with nine balls remaining.

     

    2009 – Barcelona beat Manchester United in the Champions League final

    Barcelona became champions of Europe on this day 11 years ago, denying Manchester United a piece of history and securing their own place in the record books.

    Holders United were looking to become the first team to win back-to-back Champions Leagues in the modern format but were dealt an early blow when Samuel Eto'o squeezed a 10th-minute shot past Edwin van der Sar.

    A header from Lionel Messi – a goal he still considers the most important of his career – made it 2-0 in the second half as Barca won the treble for the first time in their history in Pep Guardiola's first season in charge.

    2017 – Arsenal beat Chelsea in FA Cup final as Wenger wins the trophy for a seventh time

    Arsene Wenger became the most successful manager in FA Cup history three years ago when he lifted the trophy for a seventh time.

    Premier League champions Chelsea were favourites, but a fourth-minute goal from Alexis Sanchez set the tone for the final.

    Victor Moses' red card 68 minutes in made life tougher for the Blues and, although Diego Costa grabbed an equaliser, Aaron Ramsey struck what proved to be the winner three minutes later.

    Aside from Wenger's feat – his 10th major trophy as Gunners boss – it was a final fondly remembered by fans for the performance of Per Mertsesacker, who was outstanding at the heart of defence.

  • Can Leipzig add to Dortmund's misery? The Bundesliga in Opta Facts Can Leipzig add to Dortmund's misery? The Bundesliga in Opta Facts

    After Borussia Dortmund saw their Bundesliga title hopes seemingly end with defeat to Bayern Munich in the Klassiker, Lucien Favre's side could slide to third place on Wednesday.

    A victory for RB Leipzig over Hertha Berlin would take Julian Nagelsmann's team up to second spot in the table.

    There are some growing winless runs in the German top flight, with worrying times for the likes of Union Berlin and Hoffenheim.

    Alarm bells will be ringing at Schalke, however, if their fruitless streak stretches to 10 games. David Wagner's side tackle third-bottom Fortuna Dusseldorf.

    RB LEIPZIG V HERTHA BERLIN

    - Leipzig usually enjoy this fixture, having won six of their previous seven Bundesliga matches against Hertha – losing the other 3-2 at home in December 2017. They have won more Bundesliga games against Hertha than against any other side, and have scored 26 goals in those seven previous clashes.

    - Leipzig have taken 54 points from 27 matches this Bundesliga season, just shy of the 55 they had at this stage of their debut top-flight campaign in 2016-17.

    - Striker Timo Werner has had a hand in 31 Bundesliga goals for Leipzig this season, with 24 goals and seven assists, including a hat-trick against Mainz at the weekend. Since detailed data collection began in 2004-05, no other player has been involved in as many goals at this stage of a season.

    - Hertha have been rejuvenated under new boss Bruno Labbadia, with a 3-0 win over Hoffenheim followed by a 4-0 victory against city rivals Union Berlin last Friday. Curiously, every goal in those two games came between the 51st and 77th minutes.

    UNION BERLIN V MAINZ

    - Mainz parted company with head coach Sandro Schwarz after losing 3-2 when these two teams met in November. It was just Union's second win in seven competitive matches against Mainz.

    - Union sit 13th in the Bundesliga but have not won in their past four Bundesliga matches, losing their past three, including a 4-0 derby loss to Hertha. It is their longest winless run in the Bundesliga, albeit this is their first season in the league.

    - Mainz must set aside their latest Leipzig humiliation. Their 5-0 loss at the weekend followed an 8-0 defeat to the same opposition earlier in the season. The last Bundesliga team to concede 13 goals in a single season against one team were Ulm in 1999-2000 against Bayer Leverkusen.

    - Mainz sit 15th and have conceded a league-high 60 goals this season, more than in any previous season in their existence.

    AUGSBURG V PADERBORN

    - Augsburg have won four of their past six competitive matches against Paderborn (D1 L1), including a 1-0 success earlier this season when Philipp Max's goal made the difference.

    - A 3-0 win at Schalke last time out ended Augsburg's run of four Bundesliga defeats in a row and gave them a first clean sheet in 2020.

    - Augsburg have a rocky recent record at home against promoted teams, winning five and losing five of their past 10 such fixtures. The last promoted team they beat at home were Paderborn – 3-0 in November 2014.

    - Paderborn sit bottom of the Bundesliga with 18 points from 27 matches. No team with 18 points or fewer at this stage of a season have ever avoided relegation from the league.

    HOFFENHEIM V COLOGNE

    - Rather a favourite fixture for Hoffenheim, they have won each of their past three Bundesliga games against Cologne and are unbeaten in the past seven in their rivalry. They have only managed to string together a longer sequence of Bundesliga wins against one team – winning five in succession against Hannover from 2013 to 2015.

    - Hoffenheim will need to buck the trend of their recent 2019-20 season results, however, having not won in their past seven Bundesliga matches (D3 L4), their longest winless run since going eight games without a victory from October to December in 2015.

    - Cologne's Jhon Cordoba scored his 11th goal of the season on matchday 27, a late equaliser against Fortuna Dusseldorf on Sunday. He has now netted more goals in his 23 appearances this term than in his previous three Bundesliga campaigns combined (10 goals in 69 games).

    FORTUNA DUSSELDORF V SCHALKE

    - Schalke have lost only one of their past six competitive matches against Fortuna (W3 D2), but that 4-0 home setback in March 2019 will be fresh in the memory.

    - Fortuna sit precariously in 16th place but are unbeaten in their past five games (W1 D4) under Uwe Rosler. They have drawn six of eight games under Rosler – the only other coach in Bundesliga history to draw six of his first eight matches was Thorsten Fink with Hamburg in 2011.

    - If Fortuna go ahead, they might not stay ahead, having thrown away a league-high 22 points from winning positions this season. However, they face a slumping Schalke side who have gone nine games without a Bundesliga win, scoring just twice in that dismal run.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.