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1998 Pre Draft Article on Manning & Leaf
A look at each facet of Ryan Leaf's and Peyton Manning's game
Text by Peter King, excerpted from the April 13 issue of Sports Illustrated
MOBILITY | DROP | PRESENCE | DELIVERY | ROUTES | INTO COVERAGE
It is not a strength for either Manning or Leaf. Former San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh thinks today's quarterback should be "more of a 6'2", 208-pound point guard, a Steve Young or a Jake Plummer. Scouts say if you're 6'6" and 245, you'll be able to take a pounding. But remember, a 245-pound passer will get hit twice as much as a mobile passer."
Last year, the mean NFL quarterback rating was 77.2. Of the six quarterbacks 6'5" or taller drafted in the first round since 1970, only Jim Everett (78.6) had or has a career rating that high (chart, below). Game tapes show both Manning and Leaf to be nimble enough when forced out of the pocket, and Leaf's release is especially quick.
Tall Order If Leaf and Manning make it big in the NFL, they'll reverse a trend. Of the six quarterbacks standing at least 6'5" who have been drafted in the first round since the 1970 merger, only the Patriots' Drew Bledsoe has led his team to a Super Bowl, and none has a career quarterback rating of 80 or better.
Player Draft Team Draft Year Choice Ht. Wt. Starts TDs Ints. QB Rating
Marc Wilson Raiders 1980 15 6'6" 205 60 86 102 67.7
Jim Everett Oilers 1986 3 6'5" 212 153 203 175 78.6
Vinny Testaverde Buccaneers 1987 1 6'5" 227 132 175 183 72.8
Dan McGwire Seahawks 1991 16 6'8" 243 5 2 6 52.3
Drew Bledsoe Patriots 1993 1 6'5" 233 75 108 88 74.9
Kerry Collins Panthers 1995 5 6'5" 240 38 39 49 65.3
Leaf's Case Both Leaf and Manning put up impressive numbers last year, but based on the NFL formula for computing quarterback ratings, Leaf had the better season. Player Att. Comp. Comp. % Yards TDs Ints. Rating
Leaf 375 210 .560 3,637 33 10 107.4
Manning 477 287 .602 3,819 36 11 101.1
Manning drops with some urgency but not as rapidly as former San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh believes he needs to. As for Leaf, Walsh and NFL Hall of Famer Sid Gillman see his plodding drop as his biggest weakness, but one that's correctable. "He'll never get by with this kind of drop," Gillman says. "He's way too slow. This is the age of the blitzer in the NFL. He'd better get coached out of that in a hurry."
Both quarterbacks get high marks for presence. Manning seems to survey the field slightly better, looking at his progression of receivers more quickly, but Leaf is cool and focused, never panicky. "Manning's a little more polished," Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan says.
Courage under pressure, a crucial part of the NFL game, is hard to judge. But a man who coached against the two gives high marks. "Ryan was unflappable," UCLA coach Bob Toledo says. "He was like an oak tree in the pocketówe'd hit him hard and our guys would bounce off. Peyton always stood in until the last second and took hits well too."
Leaf sidearms some passes, while Manning is more of a prototypical overhand thrower. Manning bounces in the pocket, exactly the way former San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh says he would teach him, and he's ready to throw in an instant. Leaf isn't as disciplined, but any criticism of him in this area would be nitpicking. In the tapes, Manning threw a consistently perfect spiral, a type of pass that will pay off in windy conditions. Leaf's ball, however, rarely spiraled cleanly.
"Both are lucky to be going to either a dome or a good-weather place," former New York Giants Pro Bowler Phil Simms says. "Tight spirals will pay off in bad weather. Believe me, I know." Simms points out that the pro ball is slightly fatter than the college ball, and is usually slicker because more new balls are used in a pro game than in a college game. "You get a better grip on the college ball," he says. "Both will have to get used to that."
Manning appears more accurate, and his rainbow touch on end-zone timing passes is as good as any NFL quarterback's. Leaf has the better deep arm, and his overall touch is well above average. The ability to throw all the routes is a strength of both.
One popular theory about the two is that Manning is better prepared now for the pros, but that Leaf will be the better player in five years because of his arm strength. That theory would have more credence if Leaf's arm were significantly stronger than Manning's. It's not. "Arm strength is no problem for either guy," says Tampa Bay Buccaneers director of player personnel Jerry Angelo.
This will be vital, because Manning and Leaf will find the coverage far tighter in the NFL than it was in college. Leaf needs to tighten his spiral and throw with more precision, but under a quarterbacks coach like San Diego's June Jones, he should learn how to.
Manning is more confident than Leaf in his ability to zing a ball into a tight spot, but this could get him into trouble. Against a good pocket-pressuring team, like the Buffalo Bills, Manning will have to make quick decisions, because he'll have Bruce Smith and Ted Washington boring in. Manning's collegiate Achilles' heel was decision-making against jailbreak rushes such as Florida's. The Indianapolis line gave up an AFC-high 62 sacks last season. If he becomes a Colt, Manning will have to make a living throwing under pressure.
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