The NFL career of quarterback Ryan Leaf certainly didn’t go like many thought it might when he was selected second overall by the San Diego Chargers in the 1998 NFL Draft out of Washington State. By 2002, Leaf’s NFL career was over after just 21 starts that included him throwing 36 interceptions on 655 total pass attempts and a record of just 4-17.
Leaf’s post-NFL career has been filled with adversity and has included addiction to painkillers, a suicide attempt, and imprisonment. Leaf, however, now seems to have his life back on track and Sam Farmer of The Los Angeles Times recently updated his past and current standing back in March and it’s a worthwhile read if you have the time.
On Wednesday, Leaf took part in an AMA chat on Reddit and he was posed a very interesting question. Leaf was asked if he had the opportunity to go back and choose which team he went to during the 1998 NFL Draft, which one would it be.
“The Pittsburgh Steelers Organization,” Leaf replied.
Leaf was asked why the Steelers during the chat but he never replied. With that noted, Leaf did indicate in the April 20, 1998 issue of ESPN The Magazine that he grew up a Steelers fan.
“As a kid in Great Falls, Montana, Leaf would don his Steelers jersey, set the microwave timer and lead his own two-minute drill,” wrote Stephen Rodrick. “Mouthpiece included. The drive always ended in a touchdown. “I’d dive over the couch, wreck lamps,” he remembers. “I thought I was Terry Bradshaw. I’d sure like to meet him some day.”
If you remember back to the 1998 NFL Draft, the Steelers picked 26th overall in the first-round that year and they ultimately selected guard Alan Faneca out of LSU and that turned out to be a great decision. Additionally, Kordell Stewart was about to enter his second season as the Steelers starting quarterback after compiling an 11-5 record during the 1997 season that culminated with the team losing to the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship game.
Would Leaf’s NFL career have been any different had he landed with the Steelers? It’s really hard say, but with that said, he more than likely would have been the backup behind Stewart for at least the first two or three years of his career and maybe the full length of his rookie contract.
Leaf, by the way, faced the Steelers just one time during his NFL career and that happened late during the 2000 regular season. He completed just 15 of 29 total pass attempts for 171 yards with one touchdown and one interception in that December 24th loss at Qualcomm Stadium. He was also sacked six times in that final regular season game. That game against the Steelers wound up being Leaf’s last as a member of the Chargers as he was ultimately released by them on February 28, 2001.