The first round of the 2016 NFL Draft is in the books and as usual, it was chock-full of surprises. The New York Giants may have thrown one of the biggest curve balls in the draft with the selection of cornerback Eli Apple. Apple was hardly a consideration by the experts for the 10th overall pick. Let's see what grade draft analysts give the Giants for the selection of Apple.
New York's pass defense was terrible last year, so they were fine letting Prince Amukamara leave and bringing in Janoris Jenkins on a big dollar deal. But apparently that wasn't enough. Apple can become a great player, but boy was he up and down at Ohio State last season. The tools are there. He's big and gets physical with receivers, but his technique needs refined. It's unfair to say the Giants panicked after Floyd came off the board, but this is early for Apple.
Cooking skills aside, Apple is a smooth man-to-man defender who lines up in tight coverage, turns and adjusts quickly to his receiver’s route, and can run stride for stride with anyone in the open field. He also reacts quickly to options, screens and other misdirection plays, stepping up to fill lanes or engage blockers.
Apple gets pretty high marks as a run defender, though he will get pushed around by blockers and is more likely to appear at the edge of a pile than in the middle of one. He’s also not a physical press corner, and he uses his hands far too often in downfield coverage, as do most top collegiate cornerbacks. Apple’s game is all about quickness and the ability to erase his receiver, plus upside.
Apple joins Janoris Jenkins on a totally rebuilt cornerback corps. The New York Giants allowed allowed 62 pass plays of 20-plus yards last season, the third-worst figure in the NFL behind the Saints and Colts. An overhaul was necessary, and the most injury-plagued professional sports team on earth is wise to upgrade units by grabbing guys two at a time.
Apple does not turn 21 until August 9; he’s another of this draft’s extra-young first-round prospects. Maybe he should have helped his draft stock by running straight from practice to the set of MasterChef Junior, just like we all did back in the day. The only thing that lowers this grade is the fact that I have three cornerbacks ranked above Apple, for reasons that are not culinary in any way.
The first hour of the draft couldn’t have gone worse for the Giants. Conklin and Floyd, two guys they liked, went off the board right before them. Tunsil, a guy they liked even better than Conklin, slid down the board due to an unfortunate Twitter video. But given the unfortunate circumstances, the Giants did well to react and take a big New Jersey cornerback who fills a short-term and long-term need. And my goodness, the name! Eli Apple! Big Apple! Born to be a Giant, no? Thumbs up.
Though they signed Janoris Jenkins in the off-season, there was still a clear need for more help at cornerback for the G-Men. Apple fits as a natural press-man defender with tremendous aggressiveness and the ability to redirect receivers where he wants them to go. One could question whether Mackensie Alexander or Vernon Hargreaves is the better talent pick here, but the Giants want cornerbacks who are aggressive to the point of failure, and Apple fits the bill. He’ll have to watch the penalties, to be sure.
In a major surprise, the Giants take Eli Apple and bypass better options at cornerback. Apple is an excellent man coverage corner, capable of locking onto his man as well as any player in the draft, but he doesn’t have the same versatility to play zone and make plays in space (nine missed tackles last season). Even when he’s locked into man coverage, Apple struggles to find the football and make plays, something he has to improve at the next level. If the Giants play more man coverage – they only played pure man coverage 30.4 percent of the time last year, 21st in the league – Apple is a good fit, but if they continue playing more zone-heavy concepts, his issues closing on the ball will be accentuated.