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QBS OF TOMORROW OFTEN LURK IN DRAFT'S LATTER ROUNDS

If the notation "find a quarterback for the future" isn't at the top of the Bills' list of "things to do," it should be.

Presumably an experienced quarterback will be brought here soon as a temporary bridge to respectability, but somewhere along the way Buffalo will have to draft a youngster who can take the team into the 21st century. It isn't easy.

Even if the Bills were to deal themselves from the ninth drafting position in the opening round to some place up front where they might be able to acquire Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf, the two most desired quarterbacks, there is no guarantee even they would turn out well.

Let's survey the NFL's quarterback drafting record for the '90s in the premium rounds:

1990

First round: Indianapolis took Jeff George with the first overall pick; Andre Ware, Detroit; Timm Rosenbach, Arizona; Steve Walsh, Dallas.

Second round: None.

Third round: Neil O'Donnell, Pittsburgh; Peter Tom Willis, Chicago; Tommy Hodson, New England.

Fourth round: Scott Mitchell, Miami.

Summary: The pros went 1 for 4 in the first round. Only George became a full-time starter and none of his three teams won with him. O'Donnell eventually became the Steeler starter, went to the Super Bowl and then took a huge free-agent contract from the Jets, with whom he's bombed.

The Dolphins sent Mitchell to the World League for polishing. Then Detroit overpaid to sign him as a free agent. In the sixth round San Diego selected John Friesz, who turned out better than four or five picked ahead of him.

1991

First round: Todd Marinovich, Raiders; Dan McGwire, Seattle.

Second round: Brett Favre, Atlanta; Browning Nagle, Jets.

Third round: None.

Fourth round: Bill Musgrave, Dallas; Scott Zolak, New England.

Summary: Marinovich is usually on a surf board when he's not in court these days. McGwire went out with the same notoriety with which he came in: Best known as the brother of St. Louis Cardinal slugger Mark McGwire.

Yes, Atlanta actually drafted Favre, the reigning MVP in the NFL. Being the Falcons, they wasted him, of course. Ron Wolf, then the assistant general manager of the Jets, wanted to draft Favre with the 34th pick of the draft. Atlanta had the 33rd pick and beat him to it. The Jets settled for Browning Nagle, who flopped. A month later Wolf was general manager of the Packers and he traded a first-round draft choice to Atlanta in 1992 for their third-string quarterback, Favre.

Zolak ended up in the mosh pit with the man he backs up, Drew Bledsoe. In the seventh round, the Bears drafted Paul Justin, now an Indy backup.

1992

First round: Tommy Maddox, Denver; Dave Brown, Giants.

Second round: Matt Blundin, Kansas City; Tony Sacca, Arizona.

Third round: None.

Fourth round: Casey Weldon, Philadelphia; Craig Erickson, Tampa Bay.

Summary: An awful year. The Giants showed incredible patience with Brown until Danny Kanell came along. Maddox left UCLA after his sophomore year, a massive mistake. Erickson is Dan Marino's current heir apparent in Miami.

The big strike came in the ninth round when Minnesota took a stab at Brad Johnson, a backup at Florida State who went to the World League, learned to play and won a multi-million dollar contract.

Ty Detmer, a sometime starter for the Eagles, was drafted by Green Bay also in the ninth round and Kent Graham, who lost his Arizona job to rookie Jake Plummer and is now a free agent, was the Giants' eighth-round pick.

1993

First round: New England took Bledsoe with the first pick of the entire draft. Seattle took Rick Mirer with the second.

Second round: None.

Third round: Billy Joe Hobert, Raiders.

Summary: The Pats made it to Super Bowl XXXI with Bledsoe at quarterback. Mirer floundered with Seattle, was traded to Chicago for a No. 1 pick last spring and may end up getting Dave Wannstedt fired as coach. Hobert is already a folk character.

Pittsburgh took Alex Van Pelt in the eighth round. The best selection came in Round 5, when Green Bay selected Mark Brunell, now a Steve Young clone in Jacksonville.

1994

First round: Washington took Heath Shuler with the third pick of the round, Tampa Bay took Trent Dilfer with the sixth.

Second round: None.

Third round: None.

Fourth round: Perry Klein, Atlanta; Doug Nussmier, New Orleans.

Summary: When Dilfer turned his career around this season, it saved this QB draft. Shuler was booed out of Washington and may end up booed out of New Orleans.

The most interesting stuff happened in the seventh and last round when Washington picked its eventual starter, Gus Frerotte; the Jets' got their eventual starter in Glenn Foley and two others still playing, Jay Walker of Minnesota and Steve Matthews of Jacksonville, were picked by New England and Kansas City, respectively.

1995

First round: Steve McNair, Tennessee; Kerry Collins, Carolina.

Second round: Todd Collins, Buffalo; Kordell Stewart, Pittsburgh.

Third round: Stoney Case, Arizona; Eric Zeier, Cleveland.

Fourth round: Rob Johnson, Jacksonville; Steve Stenstrom, Chicago; Chad May, Minnesota; Dave Bahr, Philadelphia.

Summary: Three successful starters out of the first four picked. For most of the season, Todd Collins made it four. Zeier started the last two games for the Ravens.

1996

First round: None.

Second round: Tony Banks, St. Louis.

Third round: Bobby Hoying, Philadelphia.

Fourth round: Danny Kanell, Giants; Jeff Lewis, Denver.

Summary: For what seemed to be an empty draft, it's turning out OK. Banks started as a rookie and still has the job. The Eagles think their future is with Hoying. The Giants got to the playoffs after Kanell replaced Dave Brown. Lewis is seen as the post-Elway future with the Broncos.

1997

First round: Jim Druckenmiller, San Francisco.

Second round: Jake Plummer, Arizona.

Third round: Pat Barnes, Kansas City; Danny Wuerffel, New Orleans.

Summary: Druckenmiller started one game and won it in the same way Collins beat Dallas for Buffalo in 1996. Plummer was a star in the last month of the season. Wuerffel started a couple of games for the Saints, but who didn't?

Of 15 quarterbacks drafted in the first round during the '90s, there have been five success stories: George, Bledsoe, Dilfer, McNair and Kerry Collins.

FELSER'S TOP 10
(Last week in parentheses. NR: Not ranked)
1. Green Bay (1) . . . Toyed with Bills.

2. Kansas City (2) . . . Still rolling.

3. San Francisco (3) . . . Playing possum.

4. Pittsburgh (4) . . . Resting for playoffs.

5. Giants (4) . . . Defense was the key -- until . . .

6. Jacksonville (6) . . . No Bronc busting this year.

7. New England (7) . . . No excuses at home.

8. Denver (8) . . . Now that Davis is back.

9. Detroit (9) . . . Barry on fire.

10. Tampa Bay (10) . . . Enjoy it at home.