In Reese we trust. Such as been the mantra of Giants fans since 207 when the Giants not defeated the unbeatable New England Patriots to win Super Bowl XLII but did it with a 2007 Draft Class where virtually every pick made a contribution to the championship run, from first round pick Aaron Ross to seventh round pick Ahmad Bradshaw.
2008 saw the Giants go 12-4 that included beating five playoff teams including the two teams that would play in the Super Bowl that season. Of course there is the lingering sense that had Plaxico Burress not put a bullet off his hip the Giants may have made another Super Bowl run.
That run did come in 2011, off a 9-7 season that went down to the last week when the Giants had to beat the Cowboys to clinch the division (this along with a wild squeaker win against the Cowboys in week 14 that was secured with a last second field goal block).That made two Super Bowls in the Reese/Coughlin/Manning era, certainly a golden age of sorts and obviously something every Giants fan would have signed on for back at the 2004 draft.
Yet beyond the glories is another reality. The Giants were something of a consensus pick in 2009 to make the Super Bowl. They finished 8-8 with some very ugly losses to end the season. 2010 was a non-playoff 10-6 season against what turned out to be the easiest schedule in the league; last season a 2nd straight 9-7 season, this time without a miracle run at the end. Thus far 0-3 in 2013…
Coming off for seasons of mediocrity, albeit with a shining super bowl run, and a subpar start to the 2013 season and it’s fair to ask if the time has come for Jerry Reese to receive a downgrade. Obviously no GM will be mistake free and it’s probably unfair to hold Reese to his 2007 draft standard (five players from one draft having at least solid contributions to a championship run is not something a GM can do ever year). Still the question must be asked if Reese has kept the Giants stocked with enough talent to be a consistent winner.
A quick run through his free agent signings reveals a mixed bag. Kawika Mitchell was a key factor in the 2007 titale run, the batch of free agents Reese brought over for the 2009 season: Chris Canty, Rocky Benard, Michael Boley, had their moments for the Giants in the time they were here but probably won’t be remembered as impact players; Reese found Jake Ballard as an undrafted Free Agent after 2010. Ballard was a good replacement for Kevin Boss for two seasons. Martellus Bennett was the same for Ballard last season. Brandon Myers so far hasn’t filled the role effectively. Antrel Rolle has been a solid player since he was signed in 2010 and was the emotional leader of the 2011 championship. Keith Rivers hasn’t done much since he was signed in 2012 and David Baas has been largely a below average center who has battled a range of ailments in his two plus seasons. Obviously the gold standard for Reese free agents is Victor Cruz as an undrafted free agent in 2010, yet a signing that good the day after the draft would have to be chalked up more to luck than talent evaluation. Cruz aside, Rolle was the biggest signing financially and that signing worked out well, the rest of Reese signings have been nothing spectacular (thus far it’s too early to judge the Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson signings).
Yet free agency isn’t where Reese made his name. That was through the draft. Here’s a look at the first three rounds of Reese’s drafts 2007-2012 (three rounds is admittedly a subjective grouping):
2007: Aaron Ross, CB; Steve Smith, WR; Jay Alford, DT
That's twenty picks. The positional breakdown is like this: 6 WRs (Smith, Manningham, Nicks, Barden, Jernigan, Randle), 4 CBs (Ross, Thomas, Amukamara, Hosley), 3 DTs (Alford, Joseph, Austin), 2 Safeties (Phillips, Jones), 1 RB (Wilson), 1 LB (Sintim), 1 TE (Beckum), 1DE (JPP), and 1 OL (Beatty).
One thing to note is that for a GM that has won two Super Bowls in his six seasons Reese has run into a decent amount of bad luck. Terrell Thomas had perennial pro-bowler written all over him before he tore his ACL twice. After a nice rookie season Kenny Phillips had the coaches raving about his play in training camp just before his arthritis was diagnosed. Reese couldn’t foresee Chad Jones' car accident and JPP has had back surgery. The Giants defense, the one that ranked 30th in the league last season (and hasn't been good this season) might look a lot different with a healthy Thomas, Phillips, and JPP.
The first thing that does jump out though is the number of receivers Reese has drafted. Six picks out of twenty, nearly a third of his rounds 1-3 picks. He seems to have hit on most (Smith, Manningham, Nicks, maybe Randle), missing on Barden and Jernigan, but the sheer number of picks may show a misplaced priority.
Coming off the 2007 championship, in 2008 the Giants had what was considered the best offensive line in the league (O'Hara, Diehl, Snee, McKenzie, Seubert) spearheading the Earth, Wind, and Fire three-headed rushing attack. Since then it has been downhill. Despite winning the Super Bowl in 2011 the Giants were the worst rushing team in the league. So far this season the line has been practically nonfunctional. Baas has been a downgrade at Center, the fact that Diehl is still on the roster speaks volumes, Snee has gotten old. Beatty, the only offensive lineman that Reese has drafted in any of the first three draft rounds of his tenure has filled in nicely (his nightmare game yesterday not withstanding). The failure of Reese to draft more lineman in the early rounds may be the signature failure of his tenure. It’s certainly true that the NFL is a passing league (not that the line has excelled in pass blocking) but a running game still moves the chains, keeps a defense honest, eats the clock, and sets up play action. Hopefully this is an oversight Reese began to make up for with the Justin Pugh pick in this year’s draft.
There are other criticisms to make. In this passing league the linebacker position has been devalued but still it would be nice to have some good ones. Consider the contributions that Chase Blackburn and Kawika Mitchell made to the Super Bowl runs. The single top 3 round pick Reese spent of a linebacker was Clint Sintim, probably his worst pick thus far. Besides that it has been unimpressive late round picks (Jonathan Goff, Bryan Kehl, Phillip Dillard, Greg Jones, Jacquian Williams has been the only semi-decent one), and unheralded free agents.
And while Reese may have fortified the interior of the defensive line with Rogers and Patterson to go with Linval Joseph, he missed wildly with Marvin Austin (rivals Sintim for worst pick Reese ever made). The Jayron Hosley pick can’t inspire much confidence at this time, nor does the David Wilson pick (especially when running backs are always available in later rounds i.e. Brandon Jacobs a 4th rd pick in 2005, Ahmad Bradshaw a 7th rd pick in 2007).
The bottom line is Jerry Reese is as responsible as anyway for the current state of the New York Giants. He has wasted draft picks on wide receivers and a running back while the offensive line has consistently regressed and has all but ignored the linebacker position as far as impact players. His touch with Tight Ends seems to have hit a snag and the defensive backfield still has Corey Webster and Aaron Ross, both clearly past their prime.
That is not to suggest Reese’s job is in immediate danger. The offense can still be explosive and JPP and Damontre Moore have the chance to be a freakish defensive end combo in coming seasons. What it does suggest is that Reese has proven quite fallible in both prioritizing needs and evaluating talent and Giants fans shouldn’t shout 'In Reese We Trust’ as confidently as before. Surely even Reese knows his leash is not never ending.