If the New York Giants' 2009 draft had produced nothing of value other than first-rounder Hakeem Nicks, it certainly wouldn't have been the worst thing ever to happen to the franchise. Nicks has blossomed into one of the best wide receivers in the NFL -- a reliable and electric target for Eli Manning, and a major contributor to the Giants' fourth Super Bowl championship.
But scouts and general managers and personnel people work hard on their drafts and want them to be deep with productive players. They want to be able to point back to a draft and say, "See? Look how many useful guys we got that year." And this is why Thursday night's 36-7 victory against the Carolina Panthers had to be as much fun for Giants GM Jerry Reese as any regular-season game he's ever seen.
Nicks was on the shelf, first of all, which is the great irony of this point: Three of the game's most important surprise stars were also members of that same 2009 draft class. Tackle Will Beatty, who was their second pick in that year's second round, returned from an injury-ravaged offseason and was outstanding as the offensive line played its best game of the year. Wide receiver Ramses Barden, the first of that year's two third-round picks, started in Nicks' place and caught nine passes for 138 yards. And running back Andre Brown, who was their fourth-round pick in 2009, got injured that year and has since been cut eight times by NFL teams including twice by the Giants, ran for 113 yards and two touchdowns in place of injured running back Ahmad Bradshaw.
Per Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPNNewYork.com:
Reese said he doesn't always subscribe to the theory that a player usually has to show something by his third season in the league. Some are just late-bloomers.
"I have seen a lot of guys after their third year enter their fourth year and turn it on," Reese said. "Amani Toomer comes to mind. His first three years, he was trying to get it, trying to get it.
"In his fourth year, he was lights out," Reese continued. "He was one of the all-time great receivers. It is not always a three-year rule with guys."
It is not, but it came pretty close. The Giants did give up on Brown twice, and he had to beat out D.J. Ware in camp to make this year's team as a backup. Barden also entered the preseason on the roster bubble, but won his spot with an excellent camp. Beatty has been anointed the left tackle of the future for the Giants, but his play in that role was spotty last year before an eye injury ended his season prematurely, and it's been easy to detect the organization's frustration with him as he's struggled with a back injury this summer. Even once he returned healthy, Beatty found himself on the bench, and it took an injury to David Diehl to get him back into the starting lineup.
So a lot of this is luck and fate, and it's not exactly as simple as crediting the Giants for staying patient with their guys. But they're more patient than most organizations are, and Thursday offered them a chance to feel good about that. The stability they've established at the ownership, GM and coach level -- along with the success they've had -- allows the Giants to run their team without the panicky, knee-jerk issues that afflict so many of the league's franchises in this win-now-or-else era. They believe in their program. They believe in player development. They believe, stubbornly, that when they have a hole to fill they can generally fill it with someone in their own locker room.
This is worth remembering for Giants fans who start to get impatient with players like Prince Amukamara and David Wilson. The Giants don't necessarily draft guys to make an instant impact. It's nice when they do, sure, but for every Jason Pierre-Paul there's a Kenny Phillips. For every Mathias Kiwanuka an Eli Manning. Some guys hit it big right away. Others need to play and learn and develop and improve. It's that latter group that the Giants believe forms the backbone of what they do. And on Thursday night, they got to watch that philosophy pay off with a big, fun and decisive win.