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November 5, 2004 Edition > Section:  Sports

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Giants' Foundation Built from Draft's Middle Rounds

BY SEAN LAHMAN
November 5, 2004

Since 2000, the New York Giants have selected 39 players in the NFL draft and only one - tight end Jeremy Shockey - has gone to a Pro Bowl. Some of their highly touted picks have been busts, some have battled injuries, and some haven't had much of a chance to play yet. But while recent drafts haven't yielded a bounty of stars, last Sunday's win over the Vikings revealed what a good job the Giants have done at finding talented players in the late and middle rounds who can contribute.

Last year the Giants ranked 28th in rushing offense, but they are seventh this year, due in large part to an improved offensive line. Guard Chris Snee, a second-round pick out of Boston College this April, is the biggest reason for that improvement. He's a big, powerful blocker whose physical style has helped open big holes for running back Tiki Barber.

Another rookie making a big impact is safety Gibril Wilson, a fifth-round pick from Tennessee who took over at strong safety when Shaun Williams went down with a season ending knee injury last month. Wilson is a big hitter who can intimidate receivers going over the middle and contribute against the run. He also leads the team with three interceptions, including one in the first quarter of the Vikings game that he returned 39 yards to set up the Giants' first touchdown.

The injury to wide receiver Tim Carter has given an opportunity to Jamaar Taylor, a sixth-round pick out of Texas A&M. He's filled in as the third receiver and has made three catches over the last two weeks, including a 19-yard catch against the Vikings on a key third-down play. Linebacker Reggie Torbor, a fourth-round pick from Auburn, blocked a punt in the third quarter, giving the Giants the ball at midfield. A pass rusher from Auburn, Torbor has been a standout on special teams.

That's four players from the 2004 draft class who made significant contributions last week, three of whom were selected on the draft's second day (round four or later).This should not be surprising, given the remarkable success that GM Ernie Accorsi has had in recent years. Anybody can look at the crop of college talent and identify 20 or 25 players with the potential to become stars, but Accorsi and his staff have consistently found players further down the list who can develop into effective professionals.

Last year's first-round pick, William Joseph, has struggled with injuries and been unable to crack the starting lineup, but several other players from the 2003 draft are playing a significant role for the Giants. Fifth-rounder David Diehl is entrenched at right tackle and Wayne Lucier, a seventh-round selection, started at center last Sunday. Both started as rookies a year ago. Second-round pick Osi Umenyiora isn't starting, but he is getting a lot of playing time in the defensive line rotation, and he's second on the team in sacks behind Michael Strahan.

The chart below gives an overview of how successful the Giants have been with their draft picks over the last five years. Seven of their 39 picks over that period are now starters, with another 14 players filling reserve roles for the team. Ten of the players the Giants drafted are playing for other teams this year, a category that includes players like Dhani Jones and Cornelius Griffin, who left as free agents. Eight draft choices are out of football, some of whom had their careers cut short by injury.

The advent of free agency and the salary cap have made it vitally important that NFL teams find players in the middle and late rounds of the draft who can contribute right away. Nobody can afford to fill all of the starting jobs on offense and defense through free agency. More significantly, perhaps, is the need to acquire depth through the draft because of the inevitability of injuries. After seven games, the Giants have 11 players on injured reserve. Compared to the rest of the teams in the league, that's not an extraordinarily high number. When those injuries come, a team must have players that can step into a starting role and contribute. If the Giants didn't have players like Wilson, Lucier, or linebacker Nick Griesen in reserve, those injuries would have made it impossible for the team to remain competitive.

Stars tend to come from the top of the first round, but high first-round picks can also be the most unpredictable when you factor in steep expectations and that tricky jump from the amateur to the professional ranks. As the Patriots have demonstrated over the past few seasons, it's depth and breadth of talent that really matters.

While first round picks like Ron Dayne, William Joseph, and Eli Manning haven't played a significant role in the Giants resurgence' this year, the team's high success rate with players from lower rounds has given them the strong foundation necessary to be competitive.

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