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What does 2018 hold in store for Eli Apple?

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The Giants appear to be counting on him — will he justify that decision?

NFL: New York Giants at Arizona Cardinals
Eli Apple
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Eli Apple was at the center of the storm for the New York Giants in 2017 as they fell to 3-13 on the field and disintegrated into an undisciplined, embarrassing mess off of it. The Giants’ new regime of GM Dave Gettleman and coach Pat Shurmur are charged with cleaning up that mess, and have spent a great deal of energy attempting to cultivate a culture more conducive to winning.

Yet, Apple is still a Giant. He not only appears to have a clean slate and another opportunity, but to be a player the Giants will count on heavily as an every-down cornerback. Let’s discuss the 2016 first-round pick as we continue our player-by-player profiles of the 90-man roster the Giants will bring to training camp.

The basics

Age: 22
Experience: 2
Position: CB
Height: 6-foot-1
Weight: 199

2017 season in review

Maturity had been a concern about Apple since before the 2016 draft. Remember the infamous “can’t cook” comment?

“I worry about him because of off-the-field issues,” said an unnamed scout. “The kid has no life skills. At all. Can’t cook. Just a baby. He’s not first round for me. He scares me to death.”

After a promising rookie season, those maturity issues came to the forefront last season. Perhaps unable to shake off personal issues that were detailed by NJ Advance Media, Apple’s season crumbled into a regrettable series of events that ended with him suspended for the season’s final game due to a “pattern of behavior that is conduct detrimental to the team.”

Apple didn’t play well as the Giants fell to 0-4 to start the season. Then things got worse:

  • After being benched for the first three series of a Week 5 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, Apple was critical of “the whole culture” around the Giants.
  • With the Giants at 1-8, Apple’s effort during a loss to the San Francisco 49ers was apparently questioned by coaches and teammates. Upset by the criticism, Apple reportedly nearly bolted the Giants’ practice facility.
  • Apple was an apparently healthy scratch for the next four weeks, not playing again until after Ben McAdoo had been replaced as head coach by Steve Spagnuolo.
  • Apple played 60 snaps against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 15, but didn’t play defense at all Week 16 against the Arizona Cardinals.
  • After a disagreement with safety Landon Collins, Apple was called a “cancer” by Collins. The safety later apologized for that remark.
  • Apple was suspended for the season finale after apparently getting into an argument with defensive backs coach Tim Walton after refusing to do scout team work during practice.

2018 outlook

It is important to remember, I think, that Apple is still a 22-year-old kid. He doesn’t turn 23 until August.

That fact does not excuse any of Apple’s trangressions a season ago, but it is perhaps part of the explanation. He is still a young man trying to find his way in the world and in the NFL, and doing so in a profession that largely plays out in public.

Shurmur said at the NFL Combine that it was “a clean slate deal” for Apple.

Apple is currently a starting cornerback, and with little more than a collection of journeymen as alternatives at that position, the Giants appear to be counting on Apple to justify his 2016 first-round selection.

Apple, though, would be wise to remember something Gettleman said during his introductory press conference:

“This is a big boy league. You got to put your big boy pants on now. Nobody feels sorry for you. Nobody cares about your injuries.”

Apple’s leash figures to be short, no matter who the Giants have in reserve. Gettleman and Shurmur have talked incessantly about the importance of culture, and much of what they have done in re-shaping the roster has been aimed — in part — at improving the locker room atmosphere.

It follows that they are not going to allow the kind of nonsense that helped destroy the team in 2017.

Apple has talent, undeniably. It is what made him the 10th overall pick in 2016. The Giants need for him to use it. To do that, he has to mature, learn to separate his personal and professional lives, learn that lack of effort will be noticed, that criticism is part of the deal and that relating better to teammates and to the media will make his life — and job — easier.

Let’s hope he can.