SAN DIEGO -- Breaking down one of the riskiest draft moves by the San Diego Chargers over the past 25 years:
Round/overall selection: First, second overall
Did the risk pay off? In a word, no. Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf were rated as the top two quarterbacks by most draft analysts heading into the 1998 NFL draft, so when the Indianapolis Colts selected Manning at No. 1 overall, few were surprised that the Chargers took Leaf with the No. 2 pick. Leaf had better physical tools than Manning but the Chargers did not invest enough time investigating the Montana native’s mercurial personality. Making matters worse, the Chargers actually traded up a spot from No. 3 to No. 2 with the Arizona Cardinals, giving up San Diego’s first- and second-round picks in 1998, the team’s first-round pick in 1999, kick returner Eric Metcalf and linebacker Patrick Sapp. “I probably should have gone another direction and taken a different position, but that’s hindsight,” said Bobby Beathard, the Chargers general manager at the time of Leaf’s selection in an interview with The Mighty 1090 AM Radio. “With Ryan, there were too many off-of-the-field issues that I guess I should have paid more attention to.” The Washington State product started 18 games in San Diego, completing 48 percent of his passes for 3,172 yards with 13 touchdowns and 33 interceptions. Leaf finished 4-14 as a starter for the Chargers. After three disappointing seasons that included confrontations with coaches, fans and the media, the Chargers released Leaf in March of 2001.
Was there a safer move? Beathard said Manning was the clear No. 1 choice in the draft, but that he debated selecting a defensive end over Leaf at No. 2. Perhaps the pick for the Chargers should have been defensive back Charles Woodson, who the team’s AFC West rival Oakland Raiders plucked two spots later at No. 4. Woodson, of course, went on to play 18 years in the NFL, winning a Super Bowl with the Green Bay Packers and ultimately finishing his career with the Raiders. A nine-time Pro Bowler, Woodson also is a member of the NFL’s elite 20-20 club, with 65 career interceptions and 20 sacks. Beathard had a lot of success early in his career taking quarterbacks later in the draft. And Beathard would have gotten another steal had he waited until the sixth round, where the Packers selected Boston College product Matt Hasselbeck.