NEW YORK - While the New England Patriots were picking up the likes of Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Adalius Thomas and Donte' Stallworth last offseason, Jerry Reese was sitting on his hands.
At least that's the impression the New York Giants' new general manager was giving to his team's fans and the loudest segment of the New York media as they groused about the lack of name signings - no one of importance save Kawika Mitchell, who won a starting job at outside linebacker.
So, naturally, neither the media nor the fans anticipated more than a .500 season, if that. Those feelings were compounded when New York started 0-2, allowing 80 points in losses to Dallas and Green Bay.
But New York's three-game run through the playoffs to the Super Bowl - indeed, their entire season - has been marked by major contributions from draft choices.
All eight members of this year's draft class remain on the roster and 18 players drafted since 2004 are integral parts of the NFC champions, who avenged both of those opening losses in the postseason.
Credit Reese for most of that. He was the personnel director under Ernie Accorsi, who retired as GM after last season and had a major role in identifying the players who are the core of a team that has now won an NFL record 10 straight road games.
'I consider him my No. 1 draft pick,' Accorsi says of Reese. 'I can't say enough about how great he's doing the job.'
Overall, the Giants' success is the result of the kind of organizational continuity that brings success in most endeavors.
This latest success starts with Eli Manning, whose maturation in the last four games, starting with the 38-35 loss to unbeaten Super Bowl opponent New England in the regular-season finale, is a primary reason for the Giants' ascendance.
Technically, Manning is not a Giants draft choice, although he is counted in that 18 because Accorsi's dogged quest to obtain the son of Archie and brother of Peyton is one reason the Giants have been built as they are.
Start with that 2004 draft, when Archie, Eli and agent Tom Condon informed the Chargers they didn't want the youngest of the Manning clan to play in San Diego. The Chargers took him anyway with the first overall pick, setting off negotiations with the Giants, who picked fourth overall.
A deal was struck and New York took Philip Rivers, then traded him with a bundle of draft picks to the Chargers for Eli.
But they didn't accede to San Diego's request for second-year defensive end Osi Umenyiora. The Giants preferred to give up their top pick in 2005 and San Diego used that to take linebacker Shawne Merriman, leaving that part of the deal effectively a standoff. The Giants kept one of the NFL's best pass rushers for their 4-3 defense, and the Chargers drafted another who fit perfectly into their 3-4 scheme.
With the next three picks in 2004, the Giants got guard Chris Snee, linebacker Reggie Torbor and safety Gibril Wilson, all of whom started in Sunday's NFC championship game victory in Green Bay and will start in the Super Bowl.
Even though the deal left New York with only four picks in 2005 - second, third, fourth and sixth - they ended up with about as good a parlay as anyone could get.
The second pick was used on cornerback Corey Webster, who struggled in his first two seasons and was benched for part of this year, but has been a standout in the playoffs. He had an interception in Tampa, did a good job on Terrell Owens in Dallas and on Sunday picked off Brett Favre on the first series of overtime to set up Lawrence Tynes' game-winning field goal.
The third and fourth were even better. No. 3 was defensive end Justin Tuck, who had 10 sacks this season and just signed a five-year $30 million contract extension as the eventual successor to Michael Strahan. No. 4 was running back Brandon Jacobs, the 264-pounder who took over this season for the retired Tiki Barber and rushed for 1,009 yards and a 5-yard average despite missing five games with injuries.
The haul continued in 2006.
Mathias Kiwanuka, drafted in the first round as yet another pass-rushing defensive end, was switched to linebacker this season and was coming along when he broke his left leg in the 10th game. Sinorice Moss, the second-rounder, showed some promise as a receiver, although not as much as the Giants had hoped; third-rounder Gerris Wilkinson is a valuable backup linebacker; fourth-rounder Guy Whimper is being groomed to start at offensive left tackle.
But the best of that lot was another fourth-rounder, defensive tackle Barry Cofield, who has been starting since his first game and is one of the team's premier run stuffers.
This season's draft, the first by Reese without Accorsi, may be the NFL's best from top to bottom.
The first-rounder, cornerback Aaron Ross, has been a starter most of the season and has three interceptions, one returned for a touchdown. Second-rounder Steve Smith was sidelined most of the season with shoulder and hamstring injuries but has beaten out Moss as the third wide receiver, and has nine receptions for 102 yards in the playoffs, including three in Sunday's win in Green Bay.
The Giants also have gotten big contributions out of fifth-rounder Kevin Boss, and two seventh-rounders, running back Ahmad Bradshaw and safety Michael Johnson.
Boss, from Division II Western Oregon, became the starter at tight end when Jeremy Shockey was lost with a broken leg. He had nine catches, two for touchdowns, in the regular season and has four more for 45 yards in the playoffs. He also dived on a Jacobs fumble at the Green Bay 1 on Sunday, saving an eventual TD for the Giants.
Johnson, who started five games in the regular season as an injury replacement, has been a nickel and dime safety.
And Bradshaw, who fell in the draft because of disciplinary problems, has been another prize.
Held out of action until he learned to pick up blitzers, he had an 88-yard touchdown run in the playoff-clinching win in Buffalo and has provided an elusive alternative to the bruising Jacobs in the playoffs. In fact, he leads the Giants in postseason rushing with 163 yards, four more than Jacobs, and had 63 yards on 16 carries, including a 4-yard TD run against the Packers.
SideBar: Super Bowl XLII
Who: N.Y. Giants vs. New England Patriots
When: Feb. 3, 6:17 p.m.
Where: Glendale, Ariz.