Reese's success sets the standard for rookie GMs

Jerry Reese knew the love was coming as soon he arrived in Indianapolis for last week's NFL scouting combine.

The New York Giants general manager willingly accepted the congratulatory handshakes and heartfelt hugs. He even chuckled when a fellow executive joked that he must have a nice deal going with God. Reese understood such adulation would be the result of his helping the Giants win the Super Bowl in his first year on the job.

He also kept it in perspective. "You can't keep patting yourself on the back," Reese said. "You have to keep finding ways to get better."

That always is the challenge for Reese and the rest of the NFL's general managers. But given Reese's superb rookie year, expectations are higher for the new crop of GMs hired this offseason.

The Atlanta Falcons' Thomas Dimitroff? Let's see if he can find eight contributors from his first draft as Reese did in 2007. The San Francisco 49ers' Scot McCloughan? He needs to improve the 49ers after watching head coach Mike Nolan control all of San Francisco's personnel moves since 2005.

Now that Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has handed more personnel responsibilities to executive vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato, we'll find out if the Redskins actually can make another run at the postseason.

And it will be interesting to see what former Dallas Cowboys scouting guru Jeff Ireland, working as a rookie GM under the heavy influence of executive vice president of football operations Bill Parcells, can do in rebuilding the Miami Dolphins.

Like Reese, all these men have spent years in various personnel departments waiting for the chance to run a team. They would be hard-pressed to spot talent as consistently as he did in Year 1.

Besides making some deft moves in free agency, Reese's biggest accomplishment was cultivating a draft class that helped the Giants win a world championship. Reese found future stars (cornerback
Aaron Ross and wide receiver Steve Smith). He discovered capable role players. (Defensive tackle Jay Alford and linebacker Zak DeOssie both contributed on special teams while tight end Kevin Boss became a reliable tight end during the postseason.) He even unearthed two seventh-round picks (safety Michael Johnson and running back
Ahmad Bradshaw), who turned into valuable performers.

It's fair to say Reese, who spent four years as the Giants' director of player personnel before replacing Ernie Accorsi as general manager last January, is considered to be among the league's shrewdest decision-makers. He actually was so good that the fact that he's the second African-American general manager to help a team win the Super Bowl was lost in all the buzz of his productivity.

Now he's eager to get more done with a full year under his belt.

"It's is a little different for me this year," Reese said. "I'll definitely catch up on things, but last year I knew everybody (in the draft)."

That intimate knowledge of all the prospects is what ultimately enabled Reese to assemble the parts of last year's strong class.

Sure, it was easy for him to select highly productive players from big programs. (Ross, a first-round pick, starred at Texas while Smith was a major contributor to USC's two national championships.) But you have to respect Reese's ability to see the potential in less-heralded players in the later rounds. As Reese acknowledges, those second-day picks are where executives really earn their money.

This year's young general managers will have to prove they can find hidden gems like Boss, a former standout at Western Oregon. Reese said the key to doing that is gauging how players from smaller programs handle events like the Senior Bowl and the combine. That's when a team can see how tough-minded a prospect really is.

"When they get in that environment, you want to see if they look like they belong," Reese said. "That's what makes it easy to trust those guys on draft day."

Of course, Reese acknowledges he'll face new challenges this year.

When he returned from the Super Bowl and attended his first draft meeting, he felt awkward sitting there while Giants director of college scouting Marc Ross ran the session. That had been Reese's role for years. This time, he was the boss, patiently waiting to hear all the information that would help him do his job.

That's not to say Reese has to worry about losing his edge; he still attends as many college games as possible during the fall. It's just that it's hard to shake the confidence that comes from being a longtime scout, of knowing exactly what you do and don't like about a player because you've seen that kid in so many different settings.

In his current role, Reese has to rely on subordinates to provide him with the tiny details that can be the deciding factor between a pleasant surprise and a bust. He trusts his staff to do its job, but it's still a strange feeling.

The one thing Reese doesn't have to wonder about is whether the rest of the front office understands the mission at hand.

"We want to stay at a high level," Reese said. "We want to have stability here and we realize that the league isn't set up for that. Anybody can come out of nowhere to win a Super Bowl. That's why I marvel at New England and how they've been able to stay on top for so long. That's what we're trying to do here."

It won't be surprising if people start talking about their hopes of doing things like Reese someday.

In retrospect, few people were raving about his 2007 class when it was assembled, and even fewer expected those players to blossom so quickly in their first seasons.

But now that they've proven to be key factors in whatever success the Giants enjoy in years to come, it's up to Reese to prove what he can do in Year 2.

Right now, as many of his peers will tell you, he already has a tough act to follow.

Jeffri Chadiha covers the NFL for ESPN.com.