Leaf not only QB draft bust from Pac-10

IT'S NFL DRAFT week, which means sports writers across the land will be drawn, like vultures migrating north, to the carcass of Ryan Leaf. It has become an annual rite in the days before the draft to poke fun at Leaf and the Chargers for teaming up to set the NFL standard for draft day ineptitude. It's a legacy that gives Pac-10 rivals a chance to rib we crimson types for producing such an abominable pick.

Alas, fellow members of the Cougar Nation, I come to bury Leaf, not to praise him. The noble scribes have told you, again and again and again, that Leaf was a bust -- a grievous bust. And grievously he hath answered for it.

But the truest tale of Leaf is made of sterner stuff -- stuff that puts some much-needed perspective on his football eulogy.

For one, don't forget that Leaf left college with a year of eligibility remaining. That doesn't change what happened, but an extra season, especially one like '98 when the tide didn't roll the Cougs' way, could've prepared Leaf well for the struggles of the NFL.

Second, he went to the Chargers --- not exactly the most stable or talent-laden NFL franchise.

Third, he wasn't the No. 1 overall pick. And fourth, between his shoulder and wrist, he was really never healthy during his pro career.

Still, the pundits continue to dig up the Leaf affair for punch lines about the Mother of All Disasters.

For my money, the Seahawks using the No. 2 overall pick in 1993 to take Rick Mirer surpasses the Leaf calamity for one simple reason: Mirer didn't have perpetual physical problems standing in his way. He was just bad.

What really burns me about the Leaf bashing, though, is that this assault paints Ol' Wazzu in a less-than-glowing light. Guilt by association.

Yet a look around the Pac-10 tells us our neighbors who are quick to throw stones ought be mindful of the glass houses in which they live.

Yes indeed.

The next time an Oregon State alum is ripping the Cougs about Leaf, ask him how many Beaver QBs have been drafted in the last 20-plus years. If he gets the answer right -- one! -- then follow up with a quick history of Erik Wilhelm's august NFL career.

That annoying Duck fan in your office has nothing to hang over your Cougar head either. Oregon's turned out more slap-stick comedies than Mel Brooks -- giving the world the likes of Akili Smith, the third overall pick, by the Bengals, in 1999 and Joey Harrington, the third overall pick in 2002. At the rate they're both going, look for a heated battle between them to nail down the third-string spot with the Frankfurt Galazy. Oh, and did I mention Graziani or Feeley?

A trip down to the Bay Area tells a similar story. Besides John Elway, Stanford has produced a rash of quarterbacks that never quite made it, including Steve Stenstrom, John Paye, and Todd Husak, all of whom were drafted. Not including Kyle Boller, the NFL has drafted just as many kickers and punters from Cal — four — as they have quarterbacks.

Arizona State has given the pros only three quarterbacks in 23 years, the best known of them is Jake Plummer, along with Paul Justin and Mike Pagel. In that same time period, Arizona has only produced one QB good enough to be drafted in the NFL: John Conner, a 10th round pick by the Seahawks in 1985.

USC, despite its reputation as an NFL farm, was only able to contribute the likes of Rodney Peete, Todd Marinovich (if Leaf was a bust, what was this guy?), Pat O'Hara, Rob Johnson, Kyle Wachholtz, and Carson Palmer to the NFL's quarterback fraternity.

UCLA rates pretty well, having contributed Super Bowl MVP Troy Aikman, as well as Jay Schroeder and Steve Bono (both of whom took NFL teams deep into the playoffs). They've had their share of busts as well, such as Tommy Maddox and Cade McNown.

As for the Dawgs, they certainly like to talk a lot about how many of their guys get drafted. But they don't ever seem to talk about what happens after the draft. Steve Pelluer, Cary Conklin and Hugh Millen were perennial bench jockies as pros. Same for Damon Huard today. Billy Joe Hobert's shining moment came in a preseason contest in 1995 when Jeff Jaeger got hurt and Hobert had to kick a game-winning field goal. Brock Huard was drafted in '99 but has appeared in a total of three NFL games in the past four seasons. Marques Tuiasosopo and Cody Pickett are now third on their NFL teams' depth charts. In all fairness, though, Dawgs Chris Chandler, who bounced around and got the Atlanta Falcons to a Super Bowl in 1999 (they lost), Mark Brunell and undrafted Warren Moon had solid pro careers.

Now let us revisit Ol' Wazzu, the place that sent Leaf to his dubious spot in NFL lore.

One Cougar quarterback, Mark Rypien, has a Super Bowl MVP trophy on the mantel above the fireplace. Another, Drew Bledsoe, took the Patriots to the Super Bowl in 1996, and he came off the bench after a serious injury a few years later to lead them to an AFL title game victory that sent them to another Super Bowl.

No school in the Pac-10 can match that record.

This week, when other Pac-10 fans ask you about where NFL draft busts come from, tell them to look in the mirror. When they ask where champions come from, hand them a map to Pullman.

Joe Gura is a TV producer in the San Francisco Bay Area, covering the Pac-10 and NFL for ABC-TV. He is a WSU alum who covered Cougar athletics from 1997-98 for Fox Sports Northwest. You can find more of his work on his site at JoeTheGraphicsGuy.com . Send your comments to Joe at JoeTheGraphicsGuy@HotMail.com


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