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What role will rookie CB Eli Apple play for Giants in 2016?

Whether it's in the slot or on the outside, expect to see Apple on the field a lot

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NFL: New York Giants-Rookie Minicamp
Eli Apple shadows a receiver during rookie minicamp
William Hauser-USA TODAY Sports

Let's put aside all the gnashing of teeth over whether or not cornerback Eli Apple was the player the New York Giants expected to come out of the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft with. At this point, whether the Giants had an "intelligence failure" or not makes little difference.

Apple is a Giant. Jack Conklin, Leonard Floyd, Vernon Hargreaves and Laremy Tunsil are not. What matters at this point is whether or not Apple can become a guy who helps the Giants win football games.

"We like his size, we like his length, good ball skills," coach Ben McAdoo said. "Eli is a guy who is an outstanding young man, high character, good football player, his best days are ahead of him as a player and we are excited to have him."

So, as we continue to profile players who will comprise the 90-man roster the Giants will bring to training camp, let's focus on Apple.

2015 Season in Review

Apple had one interception, nine passes defensed and whole lot teams avoiding throwing the ball toward his part of the field during his redshirt sophomore season with the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Pro Football Focus said that Apple was targeted 65 times in 2015, surrendering only 29 completions. That's a completion percentage of 44.6 percent. He gave up two touchdowns and had a passer rating against of 67.9.

In making him the 10th overall pick, Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said the Giants looked at more than just the passes that were thrown Apple's way.

"He’s one of those guys that I think there’s a lot of hidden production because he is kind of a press corner and they play real tight in some matchup coverages there at Ohio State. There’s a lot of times, in my opinion, that they don’t throw the ball over there. That’s a good trait. We grade that as hidden production and that’s important to us and so that did stick out," Spagnuolo said. "That’s a good football team that he just came from at Ohio State. Urban (Meyer) is a friend of mine and they do a great job. You knew that there was some thought process in the coverages and so we figure he can handle that. I think he’s a really good football player."

Apple noticed a difference in the way opposing teams approached him from his freshman to sophomore seasons.

"It was weird this past season not getting that many targets because when you play as a freshman, you get all of the targets," Apple said. "But I still feel like I did my job out there on the field just taking the number one receiver away and doing my job playing man. I don’t think it was a bad thing."

2016 Season Outlook

Let's not get hung up on whether or not Apple is going to start. If Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Janoris Jenkins are both healthy Apple probably won't, technically, be a starter. Let's not get hung up on whether he will play in the slot or outside. It's the middle of May and we don't know. Spagnuolo and cornerbacks coach Tim Walton will figure that out.

The fact is that Apple is almost certainly going to play. A lot. Backup corners Trevin Wade (529) and Jayron Hosley (528) each played more than 500 snaps last season. Trumaine McBride played 339. So, Apple can be expected to be on the field a bunch.

"He can play somewhere back there for us," general manager Jerry Reese said after the team selected Apple. "When you have two corners in this league, you’re short one because the offensive teams throw the ball so much and you’ve got to have three quality corners to really get out there and function at a high level, I think. This guy gives us three quality guys that we think we can play with anybody around the league with these three kind of guys."

The 20-year-old knows that his initiation into the NFL is going to come in the form of quarterbacks testing him, not staying away from from him.

"I expect that, just to see how I’m going to react to things and see if I’m actually the real deal," Apple said. "I expect that and I’m looking forward to it."

Apple's tendency to grab receivers instead of just shadowing them has been discussed at length. It showed up last Friday at minicamp when his reaction to biting on a move from second-round pick Sterling Shepard was to try and grab the wide receiver as he zoomed by. Let's not obsess and think it's a fatal flaw that dooms him to become the Giants' version of Brandon Browner, a guy who is pretty much a walking penalty flag. All young players have things upon which they need to improve. Let's just see if, long-term, this is a habit Apple can break.

There will likely be growing pains. Ereck Flowers and Landon Collins went through them last year. Weston Richburg and Justin Pugh had ups and downs as rookies and have developed into quality players.

"They all have to adjust," Spagnuolo said. "Every DB has to adjust from college to the NFL. It will be a learning process and a growth process, but we’re confident."

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