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90-man roster: Will Eli Apple take a step forward?

Cornerback had a good rookie season

NFL: New York Giants-Rookie Minicamp
Eli Apple
William Hauser-USA TODAY Sports

By now, we have been over this a million — maybe a gazillion — times. Eli Apple was not the player anyone expected the New York Giants to end up with 10th overall in the 2016 NFL Draft. That’s what happened, however, and it worked out pretty well for the New York defense as Apple became a regular on one of the league’s best defenses.

Can Apple, who played only two years of college football at Ohio State and doesn’t turn 22 until August, take a step forward in 2017? Let’s take a closer look at Apple as we continue our player-by-player profiles of the Giants’ 90-man roster.

2016 Season in Review

With Janoris Jenkins and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie as established starters the early expectation was that Apple would ease into the NFL by having to earn snaps in the slot. That did not, however, turn out to be the case.

Using a bit of forward-thinking by putting Apple’s development as the outside corner they hoped he would become first, the Giants left their first-round pick on the outside and pushed Rodgers-Cromartie into the slot. That worked out better than the Giants could have hoped. Despite some typical rookie struggles, Apple held his own. The surprise was that Rodgers-Cromartie, a flop in the slot with the Philadelphia Eagles earlier in his career, thrived in the role for the Giants.

Statistically, Apple played 14 games with 11 starts. He had 49 tackles, seven passes defensed, an interception, a forced fumble and a pair of fumble recoveries. Apple ended up with a Pro Football focus grade of 55.9, 86th among 111 qualifying cornerbacks. Vernon Hargreaves, selected 11th overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, had a 52.6 grade. Apple was named to Gil Brandt’s All-Rookie Team.

2017 Season Outlook

There is no reason to believe Apple won’t once again start on the outside opposite Jenkins, and that he won’t improve upon his performance as a rookie.

Apple said recently that he is “just now getting comfortable” with being an NFL player. That comfort, and the experience and confidence gained from a year of playing at the NFL level, should lead to an improved, more consistent performance from Apple.

The Giants may not have planned to select Apple. He is, however, well on his way to making them glad that they did.