Jerry Reese always knew he had to step up his game after a string of ugly drafts from 2009-12 hardly produced any real NFLers. He hit on his first-rounders, but not much else. It’s a huge reason the Giants are in their current mess.
But John Mara stood by Reese, and was always convinced his general manager would rediscover his draft magic. And it sure looks like he did just that in the last three years. On paper it appears the Giants have more useful, home-grown players than they’ve had in many seasons. Eight of them, in fact, are penciled in to the starting lineup this year.
That’s a big reason why Reese believes the Giants will surprise people this season. He better be right, because he needs those draft picks to start paying off now.
“I like our roster,” Reese said. “I think it’s a good roster. Obviously the proof’s in the pudding. We have to get out there and prove it. It’s a high performance business and you’ve got to go out there and perform. (But) I think they’re up for the challenge.
“We like where we are right now.”
Of course, Reese always seems to like where the Giants are early in camp — remember his ill-fated Super Bowl countdown clock from two summers ago? As he noted on Sunday, “We always have high expectations here. That will never change.” And he’s always a believer in his team.
He seems to have good reason to believe in his team, because for the first time in years this Giants team has been built in what they’ve always believed is the right way — through the draft. It’s not that they’re shy about buying free agents, but they see those as a way to augment a team that already has a solid core. When they spent $116 million in contracts during the 2014 season it wasn’t because they were adding star players. It was because they were filling far too many holes from Reese’s string of fruitless drafts.
The bounty from his last three drafts seem deep and plentiful. In 2013 Reese found a solid offensive lineman in the first round in guard Justin Pugh and a powerful interior defensive lineman in the second in Johnathan Hankins. They still have high hopes for their third-round pick defensive end Damontre Moore, who could be a big help in replacing Jason Pierre-Paul.
Most people automatically think of Odell Beckham (pictured), but Jerry Reese’s recent successful draft picks also include Justin Pugh, Johnathan Hankins and Devon Kennard.
Then last year’s draft was top-heavy with the spectacular Odell Beckham, but it also netted starting center Weston Richburg in the second, powerful running back Andre Williams in the fourth, and starting linebacker Devon Kennard in the fifth, where they also got promising safety Nat Berhe.
Reese hadn’t gotten eight useful players out of consecutive drafts since his first two draft classes as GM in 2007-08. And he has no fear that his first three picks this year produced two badly needed starters, left tackle Ereck Flowers and safety Landon Collins, and defensive end Owa Odighizuwa who figures to play a lot.
“Your first three picks, you expect those guys to come in and be contributors right away,” Reese said. “What you get after that is a little bit of a bonus, but those first three guys we expect those guys to come in and be strong contributors right away.”
Throughout the years, the Giants have had similarly high hopes for too many players like Ramses Barden, Travis Beckham, Adrian Tracy, James Brewer, Marvin Austin, Jerrel Jernigan and Greg Jones. All of them, and so many more, were seen as potential steals by the Giants at the time. None of them ended up working out.
The reason this year feels different is because the players from ’13 and ’14, like Beckham, Pugh, Hankins and Kennard, have already proven they can play. And the two best players from this year’s class — Flowers, taken ninth overall, and Collins, taken with the first pick of the second round — were universally rated as among the best players at their positions in the draft.
They’re a big reason why Reese believes the Giants “will be really good defensively. I think we’re going to surprise people.” It is also why he is convinced his offense could score close to 30 points per game.
“We always have high expectations,” he said. “We expect our coaches to perform high. John Mara expects me to perform high. We expect our players to perform high.”
This year it finally looks like those expectations he has in his players might be realistic. And if they are, then Mara’s faith in Reese will finally be justified too.
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