NFL draft bust Ryan Leaf to call college football games for ESPN

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SAN DIEGO - DECEMBER 24: Ryan Leaf #16 of the San Diego Chargers drops back to pass during an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers played on December 24, 2001 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California. (Photo by David Madison/Getty Images)
Former Chargers bust Ryan Leaf will call college football games for ESPN. (Photo by David Madison/Getty Images)

Marking a tremendous personal comeback, Ryan Leaf will re-enter the football spotlight and call college football games as an analyst for ESPN next season.

A former star at Washington State, Leaf spent last year working for the Pac-12 Network and co-hosted a show on SiriusXM. Now, the Associated Press reports that he will be paired with play-by-play man Clay Matvick to call games on ESPN2 and ESPNU.

After an illustrious career at Washington State in which he finished third in the Heisman voting, Leaf’s career quickly went sideways. He is widely considered one of the biggest draft busts in NFL history after going second overall to the San Diego Chargers in 1998 and only lasting four disappointing seasons.

A drug addiction led to probation and later to a felony burglary charge, which landed him in prison for two years. Now he is using his freedom — and journalism degree — to return to the sport he knows best.

“Five years ago, sitting in a prison cell, I would have never imagined that I was going to be part of ESPN and the Disney Corporation,” Leaf said. “If you would have told me that, I would have said you are absolutely crazy. And I can't believe it. I lay my head down every night with a ton of gratitude.”

Leaf has stayed active in football and used his platform to help other players. Last month, he spoke to NFL rookies, as well as Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, to dispatch his advice on what to do and what not to do.

Now he’s following in the footsteps of several other notable college quarterbacks who have made names for themselves calling games. From Kirk Herbstreit to Greg McElroy to Brady Quinn and Jordan Rodgers, plenty of players have found a second career in a familiar field.

“Ryan has experienced the highs and lows in the game of football, putting him in a position to relate to a wide range of situations players can find themselves in,” ESPN’s vice president of production Lee Fitting said. “He will be able to rely on those experiences — including an unbelievable college career where he was an All-American and Heisman Trophy finalist — in his analysis, making him a tremendous asset for our team.”

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