Ryan Leaf’s demise began with the nightmare of the NFL Combine in 1998

The name Ryan Leaf has become synonymous with “NFL draft bust‘ in the nearly 25 years since he was made a second overall pick in 1998. In a new interview, however, the failed quarterback prospect said his downfall began before the draft.

Leaf, whose career spanned three seasons with the Chargers, said as a guest host in “The Rich Iron Show” that his spiral began in 1998 at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Leaf’s decision to declare himself for the draft came late — so late that Combine invitations were already being sent out, and his last-minute inclusion meant future Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck’s invitation was withdrawn. But because he didn’t know right away, he spent his time after the college season ended attending NFL games and banquets instead of training for the pros.

“I hadn’t done anything,” Leaf said. “I hadn’t trained. I hadn’t mentally prepared for it. I just showed up at Indianapolis thinking I was told I was going to be the first or second pick in the NFL draft. What did I have to do differently?”

At the Combine, Leaf weighed 268 pounds — and it wasn’t “a good weight,” as he put it.

Then the bears wanted him to get an X-ray of his previously injured thumb, and he didn’t have one. Doctor appointments take precedence over team meetings, and the X-ray took place at the time Leaf was due to meet with the Colts — the team Peyton Manning had picked as the overall winner in that draft.

“There were a lot of stories, speculation, that I missed it on purpose,” Leaf said. “[Colts head coach] Jim Mora Sr. was very upset the next day. In his press conference he talked about how much I missed the meeting.

“Years later, Leigh Steinberg, my agent, wrote a book, and in that book he explained that he had a conversation with me because I wasn’t particularly interested in going to Indianapolis, that I would be fine with it — not that he would have recommended it – that I missed this meeting. And that was never the case. I know you sell books, I understand. We just missed it. We missed it, we didn’t really comment, Bill Polian and Jim Mora Sr. were incredibly upset.”

Ryan Leaf when he was drafted by the San Diego Chargers in 1998
Ryan Leaf when he was drafted by the San Diego Chargers in 1998
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Leaf went on to say that he immediately hired a coach and had great training with the Chargers, who eventually made him the No. 2 overall. Of course, he only started 18 games in three seasons and had several off-field incidents that led to his retirement from the league by 2002. Ryan Leaf’s demise began with the nightmare of the NFL Combine in 1998


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