Giants general manager Jerry Reese talks to reporters. (Jan. 3,...

Giants general manager Jerry Reese talks to reporters. (Jan. 3, 2011) Credit: AP

It wasn't just the offense.

When Giants co-owner John Mara issued his now-legendary description of the point-scoring side of the ball as "broken" in January, he went on to say that the team needed to change the way it drafts its players.

They have won two Super Bowls with Jerry Reese as general manager, but the Giants have drafted only two Pro Bowl players in the eight drafts in which Reese has been in charge of the picks: wide receiver Steve Smith, who isn't even playing football anymore, and defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul.

They've found some gems in undrafted players such as Victor Cruz and brought in top-tier talent such as Antrel Rolle and Jon Beason, but when it comes to replenishing their ranks each spring, the Giants have picked more duds than studs.

Which is why this year, in Reese's ninth draft, he's looking for as close to a sure thing as he can get.

The Giants, coming off a disappointing 7-9 season and with a roster that has more holes than a freshly aerated lawn, cannot afford to take risks when the selections start Thursday night.

Even after their most active free-agency period in a generation, they're in a position in which gambling on a prospect with more upside will take a backseat to picking one with a lower ceiling but a stronger foundation. Especially in the first two days of the draft.

"You try to pick the cleanest guy possible in your first few rounds, but you get later in the draft, guys have some warts to them in some kind of way in respect to injuries or maybe some off-the-field issues," Reese said. "You feel like you can take a risk on some guys, some talented players with some risk in the latter part of the draft. You try to limit the risk with the first part of your draft."

Not long ago, the Giants were pretty adept at finding those mid-round gems, warts and all. In 2005, for instance, they selected Justin Tuck and Brandon Jacobs in the third and fourth rounds, respectively. Barry Cofield was a fourth-rounder in 2006. Ahmad Bradshaw was a seventh-rounder in 2007.

But since then, you have to go all the way back to 2008, when the Giants selected Mario Manningham in the third round, to find a player who has made a positive impact for the Giants as a third-round pick or later.

The Giants selected a total of 16 players in 2009 and 2010 combined. Only one of them, 2010 first-rounder Pierre-Paul, still is on the roster. Many of them aren't even in the league anymore.

"To be successful in this league, you have to do a good job in the draft, especially on those middle-round picks," Mara said. "There's no question over the last few years we've missed on a few of them for whatever reason."

Not all of it has been the fault of the Giants. Safety Chad Jones' career ended in a car wreck before he could even get to his rookie training camp. Defensive tackle Marvin Austin was thought to be a first-round talent, but injuries kept him off the field.

But for every one of those circumstances, there seems to be a player who just never fit in or developed. The Giants' recent draft history is littered with names such as Clint Sintim, Travis Beckum and Phillip Dillard, all of whom were selected in the first half of the draft and barely contributed on the field.

"There are different reasons why guys don't make it," Reese said. "We sure want to do better than what we've done in the past, in the last few drafts, with the middle- and late-round picks."

Reese has always maintained that the goal is to get at least a couple of starters out of the first three picks each year. After that, many of the players selected are developmental.

This year, with the highest pick he's ever had as a general manager, 12th overall, he's looking for a player in the first round who can come in and, if not start, then compete for a starting job.

Last year's draft class had a player like that in offensive lineman Justin Pugh, who started all 16 games at right tackle. The Giants will be relying more on defensive linemen Johnathan Hankins and DaMontre Moore this season, too. Both of them still seem to have significant upside.

But there is a chance, just as with all draft picks, just as with the as-close-to-a-sure-thing the Giants want to select this week, that they will not work out.

"You try to limit what risk you take, but any time you pick a player, there's a risk," Reese said. "There have been can't-miss players and people have missed drastically with players. We try to get more right than we get wrong, but nobody is batting 1.000 in picking personnel."

With this draft, the Giants are going to need to get as close to that as they can.

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