Multiple Franchises Would Have Been Changed Forever

Published on June 5th, 2022 3:34 pm EST
Written By: Dave Manuel

One of the greatest quarterbacks of all time - Peyton Manning, aka The Sheriff. One of the great NFL What If? questions is:

What if Peyton Manning had declared for the 1997 NFL Draft, rather than staying in Tennessee for another year?

The 1997 NFL Draft had very little in terms of quarterbacks, and there is zero doubt that Peyton Manning would have been the top QB off the board.

After all, in his 1996 season with Tennessee, Manning threw for 20 touchdowns, 3,287 yards and a completion percentage of 63.9%.

After his third season with Tennessee, Peyton Manning announced that he would be staying with the team for his senior year, which resulted in him being taken first overall by the Indianapolis Colts in the 1998 NFL Draft.

But what would have happened if he had left Tennessee after his junior year?


Here is what would have happened:

1. New York Jets select Peyton Manning first overall in the 1997 NFL Draft.

Remember - the New York Jets owned the first overall pick of the 1997 NFL Draft, and they eventually traded this pick away to the St. Louis Rams.

Bill Parcells recently said that if Peyton Manning had been available in the 1997, the Jets would have selected him first overall.

So, instead of quarterbacks like Vinny Testaverde, Chad Pennington and Brooks Bollinger in the late '90s/2000s, the Jets would have had one of the greatest QBs of all time in Peyton Manning leading their team.

Do the Jets win a Super Bowl with Peyton Manning at the helm?

The team went to the Conference Championship twice in 2009 and 2010, losing to the Colts and Steelers.

What if a Peyton Manning in his mid-30s is still leading the team at that time?

2. Does Orlando Pace still go to the St. Louis Rams?

The St. Louis Rams picked #6 overall in the 1997 NFL Draft.

The Jets traded away their 1.01 pick to the Rams, and the Rams took Orlando Pace, a Hall of Fame 3x First-Team All-Pro who was worth every bit of the first overall pick.

Do the St. Louis Rams win Super Bowl XXXIV without Orlando Pace protecting Kurt Warner? If Orlando Pace gets drafted in the top 5, do the Rams take Walter Jones at #6, and do they win a Super Bowl with Jones on their offensive line instead of Orlando Pace?

3. The Indianapolis Colts likely take Ryan Leaf first overall in 1998.

If Peyton Manning goes first overall in 1997, there is a nearly 100% chance that Ryan Leaf goes to the Colts #1 overall in 1998.

Do the Colts win Super Bowl XLI with Ryan Leaf instead of Peyton Manning? Not a chance.

Peyton Manning declaring in 1997 would have been an absolute disaster for the Colts.

4. San Diego Chargers don't take Ryan Leaf in 1998.

With Ryan Leaf going first overall in the 1998 draft, the Chargers don't trade up for the second overall pick in the draft.

In fact, with no other compelling quarterbacks on the board, they likely trade down and maybe end up feeling a need at another position.

A number of very good players went in the first round of the 1998 NFL Draft, including Charles Woodson and Randy Moss.


Do the New York Jets win a Super Bowl (or more) with Peyton Manning?

Do the St. Louis Rams still win a Super Bowl without Orlando Pace?

What would have happened to the Colts if they had taken Ryan Leaf in 1998?

What would have happened to the Chargers if they didn't take Ryan Leaf?


In the end, we'll never know, as Peyton Manning decided to stay for his senior year at Tennessee.

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