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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Peyton Manning-Ryan Leaf lesson

There’s a debate as to who’ll be the better NFL quarterback, LSU’s JaMarcus Russell or Notre Dame’s Brady Quinn. A similar debate took place before the 1998 NFL Draft, when Tennessee’s Peyton Manning and Washington State’s Ryan Leaf were rated as the nation’s top quarterbacks.

But there shouldn’t have even BEEN a Manning-Leaf debate, just as there should be no doubt today.

Here’s the lesson that SHOULD have been learned in 1998: When choosing between the two best athletes at a position, and all else is equal, ALWAYS go with the player who’s consistently faced better competition.

Manning, who played in the SEC, has carved out a Hall of Fame career and won an NFL title. (In Super Bowl XLI, Manning just happened to face another former SEC star, Florida’s Rex Grossman.)

Leaf, who had an injury-riddled career, played in the Pac-10. In 1997, half of the SEC’s 12 teams finished the season in the Associated Press Top 25 poll as compared to four Pac-10 teams.

Remember this: Russell is going to have a much more successful pro career than Quinn. Not only does he have off-the-chart skills, he’s had to constantly adjust to top-flight competition in the SEC. Russell is going to have a Peyton Manning-like career. He’s going to put up phenomenal numbers AND lead his team to a championship.

Quinn is going to be a LOT better than most observers think, however (Think Marc Bulger). Don’t underestimate Charlie Weiss’ influence on him. Quinn CERTAINLY won’t be another Leaf, but he won’t be another JaMarcus Russell, either.


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