Montana-born former American football player Ryan Leaf is known for being a legendary draft bust.
His story is one even the casual NFL fan can’t escape. Every year since 1998, analysts predict whether quarterbacks are a Manning or a Leaf. In 1998, the top two quarterbacks were Tennessee Volunteers star Peyton Manning and Washington State Cougars signal caller Ryan Leaf.
Many NFL insiders thought Leaf had a brighter future at the time. But we all know how that story went. Leaf was one of the biggest washouts in NFL history.
Leaf crumbled under the weight of his expectations. Comparing anyone to a Manning isn’t fair, but it seems Leaf has a loss for every Manning victory. Manning adjusted to the National Football League while Leaf was eaten alive by it. Manning won Super Bowls while Leaf was arrested. Manning makes millions in sponsorships today, while Leaf faces new sets of legal charges still today.
Former NFL quarterback Ryan Leaf is a poster child for peaking in college. I don’t say that to kick the former quarterback while he’s down. Just look at his record. His most outstanding achievement was a loss in the 1997 Rose Bowl. He won less than five games in the NFL after that. And somehow, despite it all, Ryan Leaf is still worth millions. Maybe.
Leaf has managed to remain rich despite his poor career. Here’s how Leaf got to where he is today and what the former hot-head QB is worth.
Early Life & College Career
Ryan David Leaf was born on 15 May 1976, when “All The President’s Men” was No. 1 at the box office. The movie was about the Watergate scandal, a giant fraud. Some may call Leaf’s career a fraud, and he’s seen his fair share of scandal.
According to high school coaches, young Leaf was always disliked by teammates.
Arrogance and narcissism marked Leaf from the beginning, egged on by raw physical talent. Leaf towered over defensive lines at 6-foot-5. He could out-throw, outrun, or run over his competition.
He joined the Charles M. Russell High School football team in Great Falls, MT. Leaf led them to a Montana State title and received a scholarship to play college football at Washington State University. Leaf and the Wazoo Cougars thrived.
Leaf led WSU to a 10-2 regular-season record in 1997, sending Wazoo to their first Rose Bowl in nearly 70 years. They lost the Parade of Roses game to the Michigan Wolverines on the first day of 1998, but Leaf’s college legacy was cemented by then. Leaf was the third-place finalist for the Heisman Trophy and a Washington State Cougar legend.
He would soon be a 1998 NFL Draft legend, but for all the wrong reasons.
Pro Career & NFL Draft Bust
The 1998 NFL Draft class contained four Hall of Famers in the first round. But nobody was talking about Randy Moss or Charles Woodson back then. In 1998, the draft came down to two quarterbacks: Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf.
Who would go first, and to whom? Who would have a better career, and who could cut it in the NFL? Analysts from ESPN to FOX to Hunter S. Thompson had their opinions on which quarterback would fare better in professional football.
The San Diego Chargers traded up to get their fumbling hands on either Manning or Leaf. With the No. 1 pick, the Indianapolis Colts selected Peyton Manning. The Chargers weren’t disappointed with Leaf as the second-overall pick and had bright hopes for Leaf’s future.
How wrong the Bolts were.
Leaf told New York scouts that, if selected first overall, he would go to Vegas and party for a week during a pre-draft interview.
Peyton gave a much better answer during his pre-draft interviews, telling Indianapolis general manager Bill Polian, “If you take me, I promise you we will win a championship. If you don’t, I promise I’ll come back and kick your ass.”
Leaf missed his interview with the Colts. When the San Diego Chargers selected Ryan Leaf second overall, he went to Vegas and partied for a week. Red flag No. 2.
No wonder this guy ended up in Tampa Bay.
Leaf won the first two games of his 21-game NFL career. And then it all fell apart. The Kansas City Chiefs rocked Leaf in Week 3 — the quarterback completed just one pass on 15 attempts and tossed two picks in a 27-7 loss. Leaf never recovered.
He may have won the first two games of his career, but he would only win two more after that.
Leaf sat out the 1999 season due to a shoulder injury. Coaches played Leaf sparingly in 2000, and he threw more interceptions than touchdowns.
By the end of the 2000 season, the Chargers had lost their spark. They released Leaf in 2001. Leaf joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but lasted less than a season in Florida.
But Leaf made one more stop before retirement.
Convinced his poor play was due to a wrist injury that needed time to heal, Leaf’s agent persuaded the Seattle Seahawks to sign the fallen star to a development contract with a signing bonus. Leaf abruptly retired after training camp later that year.
Three years after being hailed a potential generational talent, Ryan Leaf was out of the league. Draftmate Peyton Manning won his first of two Super Bowls four years after Leaf’s retirement.
The year was 2006, and Leaf was coaching quarterbacks at West Texas A&M University. It was in West Texas that Leaf’s more significant problems would come to light.
Ryan Leaf’s Arrests & Addiction
Ryan Leaf’s NFL career was plagued by injury. Like many patients with chronic pain, Leaf’s injury spawned an opioid addiction. While working as a quarterback coach in West Texas, Leaf stole painkillers from an injured student to satisfy his addictions. But Leaf hadn’t hit rock bottom yet.
Leaf fell deeper into depression and addiction over the years. He is still periodically on and off the wagon, in and out of rehab programs. But the former NFL bust seems to keep busting again and again.
Leaf has worked in addict communities as a recovery program ambassador. However, the former QB was arrested in 2021 on domestic violence charges, a potentially more sinister crime altogether.
Much of Leaf’s pain is chronicled in a wide range of TV shows and podcasts. Leaf himself details events in his books about his life. He may still be in and out of jail, but he appears to be trying to go straight.
It’s hard to know how much weight his demons place on his shoulders, but it seems to be quite a lot. He might be worth a lot more moolah if he could get that monkey off his back.
Ryan Leaf’s Net Worth
Ryan Leaf made millions playing football, but has lost most of his money since. You’ve got to spend millions to make millions, and Leaf has done his fair share of both.
Through it all, Ryan Leaf’s net worth is $12 million, at least according to some sources. Other sources, including Celebrity Net Worth, say he has an estimated net worth of $1,000, which seems unrealistic to me.
Leaf’s been through a divorce that has undoubtedly diminished his net worth. The guy who peaked in college in the early oughts did the predictable thing and married a cheerleader. Her name was Nicole Lucia, and their marriage was as ill-fated as Leaf’s football career.
Ryan Leaf is most likely still a millionaire. Had he been more mature when he was younger, perhaps he’d be even more prosperous. But isn’t that an oxymoron, maturity in youth?
Leaf’s talents took him far fast, and he burnt out as quickly as he blew up. The annually mentioned draft bust is compared to Zach Wilson in 2021 and will be compared to someone new in 2022.
The media will go on like this forever, overlooking one crucial fact: there is only one Ryan Leaf. And nobody wants to be him.