The NFL Draft 20 Years After Manning-Leaf: How Teams Try to Pick a Winner

After the 1998 NFL draft produced one of the greatest busts in history, what have we learned about the science of evaluating human talent – on and off the field?

In the 1998 NFL draft, the Indianapolis Colts and San Diego Chargers both drew on a blend of physical and psychological testing, player background checks, and gut instincts to select a quarterback who would turn a losing football franchise into a winner. And when the draft was over, each team thought they had done just that.

History showed otherwise. The Colts picked first and selected Peyton Manning. He became one of the best quarterbacks of all-time, and put the Colts back on the map. The Chargers picked second, and happily took Ryan Leaf. He was a proven winner, they thought. But four years later, Leaf’s career was over, and he was on his way to becoming, arguably, the worst draft pick in NFL history. The drastic outcomes of the 1998 NFL draft raised a question that continues to transcend sports: how do you pick a winner?

  • Producer: Jonathan Gruber
  • Producer: Matthew Spolar