The prize, formerly called the Best Player in Europe Award, was won by Real Madrid star Ronaldo last year and has twice been given to Barcelona forward Messi.
Andres Iniesta and Franck Ribery are the only other players to have lifted the trophy.
The prize recognises the best players, regardless of nationality, playing for clubs in UEFA territories and is judged on their performances in domestic, continental and international competition.
"The shortlist of three players was selected by a jury comprising the 80 coaches of the clubs which participated in the group stage of the 2016-17 Champions League and Europa League, along with 55 journalists selected by the European Sports Media (ESM) group, representing each of UEFA's member associations," according to UEFA's guidelines. Coaches were not allowed to vote for players from their own teams.
Ronaldo fired Madrid to a league and UEFA Champions League double last season, as well as the UEFA Super Cup and Club World Cup, while Messi won the Copa del Rey with Barca and finished as top scorer in LaLiga.
Buffon won a Serie A and Coppa Italia double for the third time in three years and reached the final of the UEFA Champions League with Juventus, where it lost 4-1 to Madrid.
Luka Modric came fourth in the voting, ahead of Madrid team-mate Toni Kroos and Juve star Paulo Dybala.
Madrid captain Sergio Ramos was seventh, Monaco sensation Kylian Mbappe eighth and Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski ninth. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who left Manchester United at the end of his contract, completes the top 10.
The award will be presented along with the four positional prizes for the Champions League for 2016-2017 at the group-stage draw for this season's competition on 25 August.