TEXT ON SCREEN: April 18, 1998
ARCHIVAL (ESPN, 4-18-98):CHRIS BERMAN: Peyton Manning. Ryan Leaf.
NARRATION: Two cant-miss rookie quarterbacks.
ARCHIVAL (ESPN, 4-18-98):CHRIS BERMAN: Both have potential to be stars for a long, long time.
NARRATION: Two franchises futures in limbo.
STEVE CHAMPLIN: We have to get this pick right.
KEVIN GILBRIDE: We have to go out and get a different quarterback.
ARCHIVAL (ESPN, 4-18-98):JOE THEISMANN: Both of them bring a lot of assets to this table.
BRUCE POLIAN: Fifty percent said Manning; 50% said Leaf.
NARRATION: Every field has its own method of evaluating human talent.
ARCHIVAL (ESPN, 4-18-98):PAUL TAGLIABUE: The Indianapolis Colts select
NARRATION: But after the 1998 NFL draft produced one of the greatest busts in history, what have we learned about the science of picking a winner?
CYRUS MEHRI: The Ryan Leaf, Peyton Manning decision is something thats cast a long shadow.
PICKING A WINNER
ARCHIVAL (ESPN, 4-18-98):PAUL TAGLIABUE: Thank you for being here. Welcome to the National Football Leagues 1998 player draft.
NARRATION: The right quarterback can change a football teams fortune. In the NFL college draft, where the teams with the worst records get the highest picks, the prospect of turning around a franchise with one top player is tantalizing.
STEVE CHAMPLIN (DIRECTOR OF PLAYER DEVELOPMENT, INDIANAPOLIS COLTS, 1998-2012): We needed a quarterback, and we had an opportunity to really pick someone special, whether it was Ryan Leaf, or Peyton Manning.
ARCHIVAL (ESPN, 4-18-98):JOE THEISMANN: These are both very good athletes. Theyre both very big, young football players.
BILL POLIAN (PRESIDENT, INDIANAPOLIS COLTS, 1997-2012): The scouts were split 50/50. Those that supported Manning were intellectually convinced. Those that supported Leaf were emotionally convinced. Their argument was, great athlete, much better athlete than Peyton Manning.
NARRATION: By 1998, picking NFL prospects had evolved from old-time scouting to more hands-on evaluations.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, 4-14-00):REPORTER: Its a far cry from the old NFL days, when training was haphazard and college players typically didnt train at all before the draft.
NARRATION: Both Manning and Leaf went through a gamut of physical tests the league had developed over the years. They also took a Wonderlic aptitude test, a 12-minute quiz used since the 1970s to gauge a players intelligence. Manning and Leafs reported scores were nearly identical.
BILL POLIAN: The selection process is about 40% science. 55% investigation, and then ultimately about 5% gut. Especially when its between two very good players at the top of the draft.
NARRATION: Steve Champlin was tasked with digging into the backgrounds of the two leading candidates for the job to try to determine the more elusive part of the selection process.
STEVE CHAMPLIN: You talk to the public safety officials on campus, you talk to the head trainers, you talk to the position coaches from a character standpoint, not a football standpoint.
ARCHIVAL (NBC, 9-19-10):REPORTER: Peyton, whos your favorite football player?PEYTON MANNING(AS A YOUNG BOY): My dad.
NARRATOR: Peyton was the son of Archie Manning, a Pro Bowl quarterback who had a 13-year career in the NFL.
PHILLIP FULMER (HEAD COACH, UNIVERSITY OF TENNESSEE, 1992-2008): Think about how many meetings that Peyton Manning has sat in with his father. Hes listened to the best and the brightest in football.
NARRATION: Ryan Leaf, meanwhile, was a blue chip prospect from Great Falls, Montana, who led Washington State University to its first Rose Bowl in 67 years.
JASON MCENDOO (RYAN LEAFS COLLEGE TEAMMATE, 1994-97): He could stand flat-footed and throw a ball 80 yards. You know? Hes 65 you know, 235 pounds back then.
NARRATION: Champlin and the Colts drilled deeper into researching the two prospects, including evaluations with a psychologist. Soon a clear favorite began to emerge.
STEVE CHAMPLIN: With Peyton you knew what you had. He was very forthright. And he had convictions. Where Ryan, it was a little more of an enigma.
NARRATON: Still, just days before the draft, Champlin recalls a scramble for more information.
STEVE CHAMPLIN: Bill Polian came into my office, and he said, We need a touch tape on every pass that Peyton threw, and Ryan threw in their college career.” I thought the number one pick was pretty much, you know, in the bag, Im thinking, Okay. Its going to be a long couple days.
ARCHIVAL (NFL FILMS, 4-14-12):CHRIS BERMAN : Peyton Manning. Will he go first to the Colts? Or will it be Ryan Leaf?
ARCHIVAL (ESPN, 4-18-98):PAUL TAGLIABUE: With the first pick in the draft, the Indianapolis Colts select quarterback, University of Tennessee, Peyton Manning.
STEVE CHAMPLIN: Bill goes, Ryans got a stronger arm than Peyton. But, Peyton Manning is the quarterback.
ARCHIVAL (ESPN, 4-18-98):PAUL TAGLIABUE: With the second choice in the draft
NARRATION: With the first pick settled, there was no question that the San Diego Chargers would take Leaf.
ARCHIVAL (ESPN, 4-18-98):PAUL TAGLIABUE: Ryan Leaf.
NARRATION: The struggling franchise had traded up just five weeks before draft day to ensure they would get one of the top-rated quarterbacks.
KEVIN GILBRIDE (HEAD COACH, SAN DIEGO CHARGERS 1997-1998): We were excited about either one. That was the beauty of it; we didnt think we could lose.
LEIGH STEINBERG (RYAN LEAFS AGENT, 1998-2001): It all started well for Ryan Leaf. He had a good training camp. And he won his first couple games.
KEVIN GILBRIDE: There was certainly some aspects or holes in his game, but we really saw that we had a special player in terms of physical skills.
NARRATION: The expectations for Leaf were sky high. He may have been picked second, but his contract included the then largest signing bonus for a rookie in NFL history, only adding to the enormous pressure on head coach Kevin Gilbride to turn the Chargers around. That intense scrutiny came to a head after San Diegos third game of the season, against the Kansas City Chiefs.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, 9-20-98):ANNOUNCER: Fumble by Ryan Leaf.
KEVIN GILBRIDE: We played a horrific game. The one guy who played as poorly as you could play was Ryan Leaf.
ARCHIVAL (9-21-98):RYAN LEAF: Dont talk to me, alright! Knock it off!
LEIGH STEINBERG: He was caught on camera in the locker room yelling at a reporter.
ARCHIVAL (KFMB, 9-21-98):RYAN LEAF: I misdirected my anger after the Kansas City game. I was extremely disappointed in my performance. And I let it show.
KEVIN GILBRIDE: He was a little bit overwhelmed by all the attention, by all the money, by the expectations that we all had for him.
ARCHIVAL (KFMB, 9-21-98):RYAN LEAF: Sorry if that sounded kind of rehearsed.
NARRATION: In the rush before the draft, the Chargers had dismissed some warning signs about Ryan Leaf, including a test that classified players by personality type and found that his was ill-suited to be an NFL quarterback.
JACK JOHNSON (HEAD COACH, C.M. RUSSELL HIGH SCHOOL, 1973-2013): He was arrogant and I think that rubbed kids the wrong way.
JACK JOHNSON (DISPLAYING RYAN LEAFS HIGH SCHOOL YEAR BOOK): This would be Ryans junior year. Tall, gangly, skinny-necked kid. I think he got one vote for team captain.
JASON MCENDOO: As a quarterback, hes probably the best quarterback Ive ever played with. As a person, I think he struggled with just being himself at times.
KEVIN GILBRIDE: We had heard all those things. But nothing to the degree that you said that you couldnt control and overcome those things.
NARRATION: Three games after the Kansas City debacle, the Chargers fired Gilbride, and Leafs play continued its downward spiral. In his three seasons with San Diego, Leaf won just four games before being released. And after short stints with three other teams, he retired from football.
ARCHIVAL (11-3-11):DAN LE BATARD: What would you describe as the low point, Ryan?RYAN LEAF: Probably the fact that when the four years was up I was willing to walk away from it.
NARRATION: The story of Peyton Manning and the Colts is just the opposite. Fifteen stellar seasons as one of the top quarterbacks of all time. Five Most Valuable Player awards, three Super Bowl appearances, one championship and an impact on the city of Indianapolis that includes a new football stadium built on his success, and a childrens hospital that bears his name.
BILL POLIAN: Im not going to sit here and tell you that we predicted that he would reach the heights that he did, far from it.
NARRATION: As Mannings rise continued on the field, Leaf struggled to adjust to life after the NFL. In 2010, two months after Manning made his second Super Bowl appearance, Leaf pleaded guilty to eight felony drug charges after stealing prescription drugs from a player while coaching in Texas.
ARCHIVAL (CNN, 3-31-12):DON LEMON: Troubled former quarterback Ryan Leaf has been arrested.
NARRATION: And in 2012, he was sentenced to up to seven years in prison after pleading guilty to felony burglary for breaking into a Montana home in search of pain medication.
ARCHIVAL (CNN, 6-20-12):RYAN LEAF: Im both humiliated and embarrassed for the situation. Not only for myself, especially for my family.
LEIGH STEINBERG (AUTHOR, THE AGENT): Its very sad to see someone who was extraordinarily physically gifted, had achieved financial security, was in an ideal location, and due to inner demons, it didnt work out.
JACK JOHNSON: Right now, there isnt any pictures up of Ryan. Definitely some things missing on the wall here without him up there, but when he went to prison we decided just to take everything down.
ARCHIVAL (MSNBC, 9-19-12):COMMENTATOR: What about that guy Ryan Leaf from Washington State? Wow. Hes gotta be right up there. That is an insane story.
NARRATION: The extreme outcomes of the 1998 draft have made it a story that transcends sports.
ARCHIVAL (CNN, 1-3-12):JAMES CARVILLE: Rick Perry is the worst presidential campaign-slash-candidate in American history.ROLAND MARTIN: Rick Perry is Ryan Leaf
NARRATION: In the movie Draft Day
ARCHIVAL (CLIP FROM DRAFT DAY, 2014):KEVIN COSTNER: Do I take Callahan?
NARRATION:Kevin Costner stars as an NFL general manager wrestling with the pressure of the first pick.
ARCHIVAL (CLIP FROM DRAFT DAY, 2014):KEVIN COSTNER: I mean, thats the word, right? Hes won everywhere hes been.JENNIFER GARNER: They said the same thing about Ryan Leaf. And he was the number two pick in 98.
RAJIV JOSEPH (CO-WRITER, DRAFT DAY): The Manning-Leaf draft was a huge part of our research. What is certain and what is not is kind of the basis of why people love sports.
ARCHIVAL (CLIP FROM DRAFT DAY, 2014):DENIS LEARY: This is the draft analysis weve all been working on for the last two months.
SCOTT ROTHMAN (CO-WRITER, DRAFT DAY): I think that plays out every day, you know? A lawyer goes to the right schools, gets high grades, and excels in every academic sort of sense. But you put him in front of a jury, you dont know what is going to happen. If theyre going to excel, you know, when the bright lights are on.
CYRUS MEHRI, (PARTNER, MEHRI & SKALET): Cognitive skills, psychological attributes, motivation. Youve got to capture what does it take to succeed.
NARRATION: Cyrus Mehri has built his career trying to quantify those intangibleswhat makes someone good in front of a juryor effective managing salesmen. After years of advising corporations on how to identify and hire diverse talent, he recently turned to the NFL.
CYRUS MEHRI: The best players are not necessarily the fastest players or the strongest players.
NARRATION: With input from NFL general managers and research psychologists, Mehri developed a 120-question test to assess the mental makeup of football prospects. The goal is to find patterns that correlate with performance on the field.
CYRUS MEHRI: We just think that were beginning to crack the code about these intangibles that all these scouts have been trying so hard to get over the years. Now we have some more hard science that is in the hands of the clubs when they make these selections.
NARRATION: Adopted in 2013, the Player Assessment Test is just the latest attempt to quantify the elusive key to performance.
ARCHIVAL (ESPN SPORTS CENTER, 3-23-14):ANNOUNCER: Cutting-edge technology will take us beyond the stats.
NARRATION: That quest for data-driven certainty has become its own cottage industry.
ARCHIVAL (MEL AND TODDS NFL DRAFT LAB, ESPN, 3-23-14):TODD MCSHAY: Weve got the quarterbacks in the Draft Lab today.
NARRATION: Entire sports shows and websites are now built around advanced analytics.
ARCHIVAL (NFL NETWORK, FEBRUARY 2014):COMMENTATOR: Hes so overwhelming a physical specimen.
NARRATION: Even old-school evaluations at the NFL Combine measuring vertical leaps, broad jumps and 40-yard dashes have been built into a media event..
ARCHIVAL (NFL NETWORK, FEBRUARY 2014):COMMENTATOR: Perhaps a number one overall pick here.
NARRATION: with the NFL Network broadcasting 60 hours of programming in real time.
While its a subject of statistical debate, a recent analysis by economist David Berry found that there is some evidence that teams have gotten slightly better at predicting a quarterbacks early success. But he also found, at least 88 percent of the time, where in the draft a quarterback is picked didnt correlate with better performance per play in the NFL.
ARCHIVAL (ESPN):LINDA COHN: JaMarcus Russell. Is he now overtaken Leaf as the biggest draft bust in NFL history?
STEVE CHAMPLIN: When youre spending millions and millions of dollars, you know, there really is so many components to it that make up that player. And even then, even then you might not know.
ARCHIVAL (ESPN, 4-24-14):COMMENTATOR: Two is the wildcard of the first round, I think Johnny Manziel is the wildcard.
ARCHIVAL (ESPN, 2-26-14):COMMENTATOR: Is it going to be a Peyton Manning or is it going to be a Ryan Leaf?
STEVE CHAMPLIN: Its an art, as much as it is a science. Were humans, we make mistakes, and sometimes we get it right.