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Updated: April 21st, 2012 11:10am
Pelissero: Few top-3 draft picks become part of complete turnarounds

Pelissero: Few top-3 draft picks become part of complete turnarounds

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by Tom Pelissero

The NFL is designed to promote competitive parity, from the salary cap to revenue sharing to a draft order inverted by record and strength of schedule.

However, it remains a league of haves and have-nots in many ways. Look no further than the inability of roughly half the league to capitalize on the sorts of opportunities the Minnesota Vikings have with the No. 3 overall pick in this year's NFL Draft.

Since the NFL playoffs expanded in 1990, 17 teams have made multiple top-three draft picks, accounting for 56 of those 66 picks (84.8%) overall. Only three of those teams -- St. Louis, Indianapolis and Washington -- have won a championship.

The other 15 teams have combined for 32 Super Bowl appearances, including 19 of 22 titles (86.4%).

Moreover, just four players selected with top-three picks since 1990 have gone on to win a Super Bowl with the teams that drafted them. The only one in the past 13 years was Reggie Bush, who joined a New Orleans team that had the No. 2 overall pick in 2006 because of a nomadic 3-13 debacle during Hurricane Katrina.

The reduction of rookie contracts under the new collective-bargaining agreement makes misses less costly at the top of the draft, but the have-nots don't always miss. In many cases, the decision-makers fail to execute a global team-building plan or run out of time before they can complete the overhaul that comes with being bad enough to land in the top three.

Vikings general manager Rick Spielman probably has time on his side after being promoted in January. He has made clear to ownership his rebuilding plan is predicated on consistent, long-term success. And making the right call at No. 3 is only part of the process, albeit an important one.

The following is a breakdown of the 66 top-three picks since 1990 by team and the impact of those selections on the franchise:

Five times

Cleveland (0 Super Bowl appearances/0 wins): In the first three years of their (second) existence, the Browns selected QB Tim Couch (No. 1 overall pick in 1999), DE Courtney Brown (No. 1, 2000) and DT Gerard Warren (No. 3, 2001). Only Warren wasn't a bust, and he left for Denver after four seasons. WR Braylon Edwards (No. 3, 2005) had one good season and was such a mess off the field the Browns had to dump him. LT Joe Thomas (No. 3, 2007) is a perennial All-Pro, but he's yet to play with a quarterback who makes his presence worthwhile.

Detroit (0/0): Misses on QB Joey Harrington (No. 3, 2002) and WR Charles Rogers (No. 2, 2003) lowlighted the Matt Miller era. An influx including WR Calvin Johnson (No. 2, 2007), QB Matthew Stafford (No. 1, 2009) and DT Ndamukong Suh (No. 2, 2010) have the Lions among the NFL's ascending teams, but it took a lot of awful seasons to get there and the franchise still hasn't won a playoff game since Jan. 5, 1992.

Arizona/Phoenix (1/0): RB Garrison Hearst (No. 3, 1993) and DE Simeon Rice (No. 3, 1996) had their best years after escaping a team owner Bill Bidwill long ran on the cheap. DE Andre Wadsworth (No. 3, 1998) was an epic bust. T Leonard Davis (No. 2, 2001) ended up making three Pro Bowls as a guard with Dallas and was gone before the Cardinals reached a Super Bowl with help from WR Larry Fitzgerald (No. 3, 2004), who is one of the NFL's best receivers but hasn't had anyone to throw to him since Warner retired.

Indianapolis (2/1): The Colts blew it with QB Jeff George (No. 1, 1990), DE Steve Emtman (No. 1, 1992) and LB Quentin Coryatt (No. 2, 1992) before hitting on HB Marshall Faulk (No. 2, 1994) and QB Peyton Manning (No. 1, 1998), who led them to a championship in his ninth season and another Super Bowl appearance three years later. Indianapolis hasn't had a top-three pick since -- until they draft No. 1 overall this month, thanks to a brutal season with Manning sidelined by neck surgery.

St. Louis (2/1): The Rams traded up with the Jets for LT Orlando Pace (No. 1 in 1997), who protected Kurt Warner's blindside on a team that won a title in his third season and lost one in his fifth. Once Warner left, the Rams tanked, churning through several regimes and ending up with high picks in 2008 (No. 2, DE Chris Long), 2009 (No. 2, T Jason Smith) and 2010 (No. 1, QB Sam Bradford), plus the No. 2 pick this year they traded to Washington. Smith has been a bust. DT Sean Gilbert (No. 3, 1992) had 10½ sacks in his second season, left after his fourth and became best-known for sitting out the 1997 season in a contract dispute.

Four times

Cincinnati (0/0): DT Dan Wilkinson (No. 1, 1994), RB Ki-Jana Carter (No. 1, 1995) and QB Akili Smith (No. 3, 1999) remain painful punchlines for penny-pinching owner Mike Brown's franchise. The Bengals got two Pro Bowls and no playoff wins out of QB Carson Palmer (No. 1, 2003), who was never the same after blowing out a knee in 2008 and forced his way to Oakland last year.

Three times

Houston (0/0): QB David Carr (No. 1, 2002) was the franchise's first draft pick and failed in part because he had so little around him. The Texans hit on WR Andre Johnson (No. 3, 2003) and DE Mario Williams (No. 1, 2006), who bolted for a $100 million megacontract with Buffalo last month.

Atlanta (1/0): DB Bruce Pickens (No. 3, 1991) didn't work out and was long gone before the 1998 NFC championship. QB Michael Vick (No. 1, 2001) was a Pro Bowler before felony dogfighting charges led to prison time and his release. QB Matt Ryan (No. 3, 2008) has proven a competent starter, but the Falcons are 0-3 in the playoffs with him under center.

Oakland (1/0): DT Darrell Russell (No. 2, 1997) had his career derailed by drug problems and wasn't around for the 2002 AFC championship -- the Raiders' last playoff appearance under late owner Al Davis' deteriorating rule. T Robert Gallery (No. 2, 2004) never met expectations. QB JaMarcus Russell (No. 2007) is the biggest bust of the past decade, and that's saying something.

Seattle (1/0): DT Cortez Kennedy (No. 3, 1990) is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame despite playing on a lot of lousy teams. QB Rick Mirer (No. 2, 1993) was a mistake and DB Shawn Springs (No. 3, 1997) -- drafted with a pick acquired from Atlanta for selections in Rounds 1 through 4 -- was in Washington before the Seahawks made the Super Bowl after the 2005 season.

Washington (1/1): The Super Bowl the Redskins won after the 1991 season was a distant memory before they missed on QB Heath Shuler (No. 3, 1994). They made a pair of deals to move up for LB LaVar Arrington (No. 2, 2000) and T Chris Samuels (No. 3, 2000), who both became Pro Bowlers. But the Redskins have only one playoff win since 1999 and quick-trigger owner Dan Snyder often has fallen into the trap of trying to buy titles through free agency.

Two times

New York Jets (0/0): RB Blair Thomas (No. 2, 1990) didn't work out. WR Keyshawn Johnson (No. 1, 1996) made two Pro Bowls with the Jets, but he got his ring in Tampa Bay.

Jacksonville (0/0): T Tony Boselli (No. 2, 1995) made five Pro Bowls before injuries forced him into early retirement. LB Kevin Hardy (No. 2, 1996) was a solid player who had 10½ sacks in 1999.

Miami (0/0): RB Ronnie Brown (No. 2, 2005) had one 1,000-yard season before injuries sapped his explosion. Like Thomas, T Jake Long (No. 1, 2008) is a Pro Bowl performer with no one of note to protect.

Carolina (1/0): DE Julius Peppers (No. 1, 2002) helped the Panthers to their only Super Bowl appearance in his second season. Can QB Cam Newton (No. 1, 2011) do the same?

Tennessee/Houston Oilers (1/0): QB Steve McNair (No. 3, 1995) was drafted before the move and helped the Titans to a Super Bowl appearance in his fifth season. They had less luck with Vince Young (No. 3, 2006), who was involved in several unfortunate incidents on and off the field and was released in January 2011.

San Diego (1/0): The Chargers whiffed badly on QB Ryan Leaf (No. 2, 1998), then targeted the same position with QB Eli Manning (No. 1, 2004), who was flipped for a package including No. 4 pick Philip Rivers and has won two Super Bowls with the Giants. The Chargers also made deals in 1998 with Arizona, which blew the pick on Wadsworth, and in 2001 with Atlanta, which drafted Vick.

One time

Kansas City (0/0): DE Tyson Jackson (No. 3, 2009) has developed into a solid player, but the Chiefs are in transition again.

Philadelphia (1/0): QB Donovan McNabb (No. 2, 1999) made six Pro Bowls with the Eagles, who rode him to a Super Bowl in his sixth season and four other NFC championship game appearances -- but no titles.

New Orleans (1/1): Circumstances gave the Saints a chance to draft HB Reggie Bush (No. 2, 2006), who helped spark the turnaround that led to a championship in his fourth season. They dealt the No. 2 pick to Washington in 2000.

San Francisco (1/1): It's been a long time since the 49ers won their last title after the 1994 season. Persistent turnover at the offensive coordinator position contributed to the struggles of QB Alex Smith (No. 1, 2005), who remains the 49ers' starter but has fallen short of the second quarterback taken, Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers. They dealt the No. 3 pick to Washington in 2000.

Tampa Bay (1/1): The Buccaneers built a roster that won a championship after the 2002 season, long before they took DT Gerald McCoy (No. 3, 2010), who has been plagued by injuries.

Baltimore/old Cleveland Browns (1/1): DB Eric Turner (No. 2, 1991) played one season after the 1996 move to Baltimore, where the Ravens won a title after the 2000 season without him.

Denver (2/2): The Broncos haven't been back to the Super Bowl since the retirement of John Elway, who now serves as the team's vice president of football operations. His first draft pick was LB Von Miller, who had 11½ sacks as a rookie.

Dallas (3/3): NT Russell Maryland (No. 1, 1991) was a part of three Super Bowl-winning teams with the Cowboys, who are 1-7 in their past eight playoff games.

Buffalo (4/0): The Bills have been through six head coaches since Marv Levy's retirement in 1997 and haven't won a playoff game. But they didn't have a top-three pick until last year, when they took DT Marcell Dareus (No. 3, 2011).

New England (6/3): The Patriots haven't had a top-three pick since QB Drew Bledsoe (No. 1, 1993), who led them to a Super Bowl appearance in his fourth season.

Zero times

Vikings (0/0): The last time they went 3-13, the Vikings ended up with the No. 4 overall pick and drafted future Pro Football Hall of Fame end Chris Doleman. They've drafted in the top 10 only four times since and never higher than No. 7. Their last top-three pick came in 1968, when they used the No. 1 overall selection on another future hall of famer, tackle Ron Yary.

Chicago (0/1): The Bears have drafted in the top 10 only six times since 1990 and haven't had a top-three pick since 1972, when they missed on tackle Lionel Antoine at No. 3.

Green Bay (3/2): One of the NFL's model football operations in recent years, the Packers have had only four top-10 picks since 1990 and haven't drafted in the top three since 1989, when they blew the No. 2 selection on steroid-driven tackle Tony Mandarich.

Pittsburgh (4/2): The Steelers' last top-three pick was hall of famer Terry Bradshaw, who went No. 1 in 1970.

New York Giants (4/3): Not including the trade for Manning, the Giants haven't selected in the top three since 1984, when they got a solid but unspectacular linebacker named Carl Banks.

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
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In this story: Donovan McNabb