From the biggest bust in NFL history to Hall of Fame candidacy

Ryan Leaf’s long journey has been rewarded



WSU alumni and ex-quarterback Ryan Leaf throws a pass during the 2022 Spring Game, April 23, 2022, at Martin Stadium.


On June 5, the College Football Hall of Fame nominated Ryan Leaf to be on the ballot for the class of 2024.

Leaf played for Washington State from 1995–97. In the 1997 season, Leaf led the Cougars to a 10-2 record and a Rose Bowl appearance. Leaf finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting that season and won the Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year.

Leaf’s career at Washington State contributed to his status as one of the top prospects in NFL history. The debate of the 1998 draft was between Leaf and Tennessee star Peyton Manning. He was selected as the second overall pick by the San Diego Chargers, immediately after Manning went to the Colts.

While with the Chargers, Leaf did not play at a level that was sustainable in the NFL. He struggled in every aspect of the game, from completion percentage to questionable decision-making and everything in between. 

Locker room comradery was an issue and Leaf struggled to maintain a level of professionalism in the league, once yelling at a reporter after a game. Those types of issues combined with his poor play meant he fell out of the league quickly.

It is no surprise that Leaf is widely regarded as the biggest draft bust of all time.

Once he was out of the NFL entirely, Leaf continued to struggle with the environment around him, only now with the law. Leaf was charged with a variety of drug-related offenses in Montana in 2012 and later did prison time in the state.

Since being released from prison, Leaf has made several changes in his life, including maintaining sobriety, advocating for mental health and doing public speaking events. Leaf has also helped the Pac-12 with broadcasting-related ventures, such as calling games. He also participated in the 2022 WSU Crimson and Gray game, throwing multiple completions to much applause.

The Hall takes the player’s record and behavior as a citizen into account when compiling the ballot each year, meaning that someone struggling with the law like Leaf did will often also struggle to receive a nomination. 

The official rules state “While each nominee’s football achievements in college are of prime consideration, his post-football record as a citizen is also weighed. He must have proven himself worthy as a citizen, carrying the ideals of football forward into his relations with his community.”

Fortunately, it seems they have determined Leaf’s journey to be sufficient to reward him for his legendary college playing days. Hopefully, he makes the hall when the voters decide in December. He certainly deserves it.