Cam Newton, Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert and other newly drafted young quarterbacks need to hear a cautionary tale from another promising young passer who was anointed with similarly lofty expectations.
It has been 13 years since Washington State's Ryan Leaf was drafted No. 2 overall behind Tennessee's Peyton Manning, and many of today's quarterbacks have heard only in passing about Leaf's experience with the Chargers. But Leaf himself wants today's young prospects to know the potential pitfalls of what lies ahead.
Leaf once was touted as the second coming of Dan Fouts, but his attitude of entitlement, coupled with miserable on-field performances that led to his release after only three seasons, made him one of the biggest draft-day failures ever. "For the longest time, I was such an entitled athlete, but I see things from a different perspective now," he said. "I didn't handle things appropriately, and hopefully my experience can be a help to the new guys coming up. For me, it's really about helping people and maybe helping them avoid some of the things I went through when I was in the NFL."
Leaf, 34 and living in his hometown of Great Falls, Mont., has been through a number of difficult experiences as an adult. And not just in football, although there certainly was enough adversity during his ill-fated career with the Chargers -- much of it brought on by himself.
Leaf was considered such a can't-miss prospect that former Chargers general manager Bobby Beathard, who had the third overall pick, traded two first-rounders, a second-rounder and four-time Pro Bowl returner Eric Metcalf to the Cardinals just to move up one spot to be assured of drafting Leaf.
But by his own admission, Leaf's immaturity doomed him from the start. He missed a mandatory rookie seminar before the start of training camp. He regularly argued with reporters who had criticized his performance. Compounding it all was his ineffective play, as he threw two touchdown passes and 15 interceptions as a rookie.
He blamed the media. He blamed his teammates. And he was gone after three miserable seasons in which he threw 36 interceptions and only 14 touchdown passes. He played briefly with Tampa Bay and Dallas before leaving the NFL in 2002.
And Manning? He's done OK.
No hard feelings from Leaf. "Every time I watch him play, I'm rooting for him,'' he said. "Some people would think I'd be resentful, but I'm definitely not. Peyton and his family have been great to me.''
There would be more misfortune for Leaf. Addicted to Vicodin after he left the NFL, he resigned from his coaching position at West Texas A&M in 2008. In May 2009, he was indicted on burglary and controlled-substance charges in Texas. In April 2010, he pleaded guilty to seven counts of obtaining a controlled substance by fraud. He was sentenced to 10 years' probation.
"I went through an addiction to painkillers that really made my perspective on things change dramatically," he said. "For the longest time, I really took to heart what everybody said and being a monumental failure, where in fact there are just 32 starting quarterbacks in the world and I was the second pick in the draft. There were so many more positives to my life, and I was taking it home with me and putting it inside me and I wasn't comfortable with the person I was."
He now realizes his fall from grace in the NFL, as well as his addiction, helped him in the end. "For someone who was so spoiled, I had to fall on my face like that to have the perspective, the humility to stand in front of a group of people and confidently tell people the story about my life so that one day maybe they can change theirs,'' Leaf said. "I want to put a face on that epidemic, because it's such a problem in this country. I try to help others, but at the same time, it's therapeutic for me talking about it."
Too bad it took so much misfortune for Leaf to arrive at this point, but now he can offer a message that might help others.
Leaf assists players who ask for help with football, including those from Washington State and high schools near his home. He says he is financially secure because relatives helped him make good investments with his $11.25-million signing bonus.
He is writing two autobiographical books, the first of which is due out this fall. He travels around the country talking to groups about his addiction and tries to help others battle theirs.
Here's hoping young quarterbacks are paying attention.