Only twice since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 have quarterbacks been the top two picks, and Archie Manning was in one of those pairs of draftees. In '71, Jim Plunkett went first, to the New England Patriots, followed by Manning, who went to the New Orleans Saints. In '93, Bledsoe and Rick Mirer went one-two, to the Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks, respectively. If the Colts have trouble deciding which player to select, they might look at off-field demeanor. Leaf admits that he "hit the banquet circuit a little hard and ordered too much room service late at night." Maybe his ballooning to 261 pounds reflected nothing more than a kid loving life and celebrating his newfound celebrity. But maybe it was a red flag.
"I was at the combine for the weigh-in," says Angelo, "and it really surprised me. Here's what could be the biggest day of your life, the day you're going to expose yourself to your future employers for the first time, and you show up out of shape and overweight. To me, that's a signal. The quarterback has to be the CEO of your team. You have to trust him. I'd have some hard questions if that happened and we were going to pick him."
Ending up in San Diego could give Leaf one distinct advantage over Manning: He figures to get better coaching at least in 1998. As an offensive coordinator for the Houston Oilers and Jacksonville Jaguars, Chargers coach Kevin Gilbride worked with Warren Moon for five productive seasons and then with Mark Brunell for two. San Diego's first-year quarterbacks coach, June Jones, is a trusted student of the game. In Indianapolis, coach Jim Mora is defense-minded and quarterbacks coach Bruce Arians, who has been in coaching since 1975, has bounced between the college game and the NFL for the past decade.
Here's a look at each facet of the passing game and how the two young quarterbacks measure up:
It is not a strength for either Manning or Leaf. 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, opposite). Game tapes show both Manning and Leaf to be nimble enough when forced out of the pocket, and Leaf's release is especially quick.
Manning drops with some urgency but not as rapidly as Walsh believes he needs to. As for Leaf, Walsh and 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. 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," Shanahan says.
Leaf sidearms some passes, while Manning is more of a prototypical overhand thrower. Manning bounces in the pocket, exactly the way 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," 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."
THROWING THE ROUTES
Manning appeal's 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 Angelo.
COURAGE UNDER PRESSURE
This crucial part of the NFL game is hard to judge. But a man who coached against the two gives high marks. "Ryan was unflappable," Toledo says. "He was like an oak tree in the pocket—we'd hit him hard and our guys would bounce off. Peyton always stood in until the last second and took hits well too."