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In the NFL draft, good things come at No. 3; Large number are Pro Bowlers, QBs usually bust

The conventional theory is, when picking in the top five of the NFL draft you should come away with a potential Hall of Fame player, or at least a perennial All-Pro.

The Buffalo Bills got both with Bruce Smith, the No. 1 overall selection in 1985. They didn't do so well with Mike Williams, the fourth pick in 2002.

This year, the Bills have the No. 3 choice for the first time since the common draft began in 1967 (they chose Auburn offensive tackle Ken Rice third overall in the 1961 AFL draft). History shows it's a good spot to have.

Of the last 44 players taken third overall, 27 appeared in at least one Pro Bowl. Two of them -- offensive tackle Anthony Munoz (1980) and running back Barry Sanders (1989) -- are in the Hall of Fame. No third overall pick from the 1970s or 1990s is in the Hall of Fame, though Seattle defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy (1990) was a finalist in the 2010 voting.

Third overall picks from the 1960s in Canton are defensive tackle Merlin Olsen (1962), receiver Charley Taylor (1964) and linebacker Dick Butkus (1965). Prior to 1960, quarterback Bobby Layne (1948) and running backs Doak Walker (1949) and Ollie Matson (1952) are the No. 3s that made it to the Hall.

Quarterbacks taken third haven't fared that well. There were more busts than solid starters among the 11 signal-callers drafted since 1967. So while we await the Bills' decision tonight, here's a look at the third overall picks since 2000:

2010: DT Gerald McCoy, Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Had the misfortune of being picked after Ndamukong Suh, who was the NFL's runaway Defensive Rookie of the Year. But some scouts believed McCoy was on par with Suh talent-wise. Before a torn biceps ended his season, McCoy made 38 tackles with three sacks in 13 games. Tampa Bay still believes he can be a disruptive interior force like former Bucs great Warren Sapp.

2009: DE Tyson Jackson, Kansas City Chiefs. Jackson was drafted to fill a need after the team switched to the 3-4 defense. The Chiefs thought he was a safe pick, but they took him a lot higher than he was projected. After two seasons, he has yet to justify the selection. He has started only 17 of the Chiefs' 33 games, recording just one sack and never finishing higher than 12th on the team in tackles. Some team observers question his desire. Chiefs GM Scott Pioli remains convinced Jackson will become a good player, but many people around K.C. aren't so sure.

2008: QB Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons. After Michael Vick's unceremonious departure, the Falcons looked to be headed toward years of mediocrity. But Ryan's instant impact resulted in a remarkably fast turnaround. He has guided the Falcons to three straight winning seasons, a franchise first, and two playoff appearances. He threw for 3,705 yards, 28 touchdowns and only nine interceptions last season while leading the Falcons to a 13-3 record and the NFC South title. He hasn't won a playoff game yet, but it's only a matter of time. As long as the team continues to build around him, Ryan is the kind of quarterback who keeps you in Super Bowl contention.

2007: LT Joe Thomas, Cleveland Browns. Few high picks live up to expectations the way Thomas has. He was named to the Pro Bowl in each of his four seasons and earned first-team All-Pro honors the last two years. He also has never missed a game. Big, strong, athletic and technically sound, he should be one of the NFL's elite linemen for years to come.

2006: QB Vince Young, Tennessee Titans. He was the Offensive Rookie of the Year and made the Pro Bowl the following year. Despite a funky delivery, he has a strong arm and is a dangerous runner once he escapes the pocket. He has an impressive 30-17 career regular-season record and his quarterback rating has increased from 64.5 to 82.8 to 98.6 in the past three seasons. He even led the Titans to an 8-2 record to end 2009 after they started 0-6 under Kerry Collins. But talent and production wasn't the issue. A lack of mental toughness was. He didn't handle adversity well and fell out of favor in Tennessee after butting heads with former coach Jeff Fisher. The team has said it plans to get rid of Young.

2005: WR Braylon Edwards, Cleveland Browns. He was hailed as the game's next great receiver when he got drafted. That appeared to be the case when he broke out with 80 catches for 1,289 yards and 16 TDs during a Pro Bowl 2007 season. But he has never come close to matching those numbers again. After a slew of inconsistent games and legal problems, Edwards was traded to the New York Jets in 2009. He is an unrestricted free agent, but expressed a desire to stay with the Jets.

2004: WR Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals. Stardom was predicted for this guy from the day he entered the league. He hasn't disappointed. He owns five seasons with at least 90 catches, including two of 100 or more, has topped 1,400 yards three times and owns four seasons with double-digit touchdowns. Despite no proven quarterback last season, Fitzgerald was still able to catch 90 passes for 1,137 yards, and six touchdowns to earn his fourth straight Pro Bowl berth and fifth overall. His greatness was confirmed in the 2008 playoffs when he broke Jerry Rice's records with 30 catches, 546 yards and seven touchdowns while leading the Cardinals to Super Bowl XLIII.

2003: WR Andre Johnson, Houston Texans. If you were constructing the perfect receiver, Johnson would be your image. At 6-foot-3, 230 pounds and with blazing speed, he is a match-up nightmare for opponents. The five-time Pro Bowler and three-time first-team All-Pro has three 100-catch seasons and five years with 1,000 yards, including league-leading totals of 1,575 and 1,569 in 2008 and 2009, respectively.

2002: QB Joey Harrington, Detroit Lions. After an outstanding season at Oregon, Harrington was viewed as the Motor City savior. He started 55 games, but never threw for 3,000 yards or competed more than 57 percent of his passes in any of his first four seasons. He was traded to Miami after 2005 and was out of the league by 2007. While Harrington had his issues and didn't have the mental makeup to be an NFL star, he wasn't helped by a dysfunctional organization that did a terrible job of assembling the right pieces around him.

2001: DT Gerald Warren, Cleveland Browns. While he hasn't been awful, he has not been the dominant defender the Browns thought they were getting. Still, he has been a starter in each of his 10 seasons and has 35.5 career sacks, not bad for an interior lineman. After leaving Cleveland in 2004, Warren was a serviceable player in Denver for two years, in Oakland for three and was a solid contributor in New England last season.

2000: LT Chris Samuels, Washington Redskins. The 'Skins hit a home run with this pick. Samuels was every bit the dominant performer everyone envisioned he'd be coming out of Alabama. A starter in 141 games, Samuels was a road-grading run blocker, a skillful pass protector and elected to six Pro Bowls. He might still be going strong if not for a neck injury, which was related to spinal stenosis, a condition he was diagnosed with as a child. The threat of a long-term, serious injury forced him to retire after the 2009 season.

e-mail: awilson@buffnews.com

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