EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The first leaks out of the Giants' draft room in 2016 were about how the team "scrambled" when they were on the clock for the 10th pick of the first round. The two players they wanted had been stolen right in front of them. Another player their scouts liked was off their board.
In the days and weeks after, a different picture emerged of GM Jerry Reese making a calm, informed decision. Yes, he stubbornly stood pat, refusing to trade up or down. But there was no panic as he simply went with the next name on his board.
Whichever picture you believe, one thing is clear: Nothing went right for the Giants in the first-round of the 2016 NFL Draft when they ended up with Ohio State cornerback Eli Apple.
And it all started with Laremy Tunsil's gas-mask bong.
That was the catalyst for how the Giants ended up with Apple, whom they suspended on Wednesday for what interim GM Kevin Abrams said in a statement was "a pattern of behavior that is conduct detrimental to the team." That came after Apple refused to practice with the scout team earlier in the day and got into an argument with cornerbacks coach Tim Walton. And that was just the culmination of a season of trouble for the 22-year-old in which he's been benched multiple times and was even inactive for four games.
It now seems possible, if not likely, that Apple will be cut or traded this offseason. There are certainly those in the Giants organization who have had enough of his bad act, though the decision will ultimately be made by the next general manager. The old GM, Reese, was incredibly patient with his former first-rounder.
But it's worth remembering that Apple wasn't the player he wanted that day.
According to multiple team sources, the Giants had centered their affection on two players with the 10th pick in 2016 -- Georgia linebacker Leonard Floyd and Michigan State tackle Jack Conklin. As the draft got closer, that was fairly well known in the media and around the league, too. Those team sources described a pretty even split in the organization between those two players. Reese was believed to prefer Floyd.
By the time draft day rolled around, though, there were rumors of teams trying to jump over them for both -- specifically the Titans (for Conklin) and the Bears (for Floyd). Most scouts, though, believed the draft's top tier was 10 players deep. And once the Rams and Eagles traded up to the top two spots to take quarterbacks Jared Goff and Carson Wentz respectively, it appeared that no matter how the first nine picks broke, the Giants would be in good shape.
Then came the gas mask.
Just before the start of the draft, a video appeared on Tunsil's verified Twitter account of the Ole Miss tackle wearing and smoking a gas mask bong. Tunsil, at the time, was considered a lock to go in the Top 5 and he was the consensus top offensive lineman in the draft. There were already character concerns that had scared some teams away, and rumors of other issues looming -- particularly with his stepfather who had filed a civil lawsuit against him two days before the draft.
But still, his talent was considered too big to pass up.
When the video hit, though, many teams around the league quickly reconsidered. And according to league sources, it wasn't just that he was using drugs, it was a worry about what else would come out. Tunsil claimed his Twitter account had been hacked, but who hacked it and what other information did they have? How could Tunsil have made such a poor choice and allowed a video record, and what else did he record? There was no time for teams to investigate any of that. And whoever drafted him would have the gas mask video as the image of their first-rounder that they wouldn't be able to hide.
It was all too much, too fast. His character issues were enough to convince the Giants to take him off their board altogether, though some sources insisted they had done that before the bong video came out.
Had anyone in the Top 9 taken Tunsil, the Giants likely would've ended up with someone other than Apple. But Tunsil was the player that slid into their lap, and he was the one player they knew they wouldn't take.
Meanwhile, the nightmare scenario -- one that seemed obvious at the time -- played out. The Titans traded their third-round pick and a 2017 second-rounder to Cleveland to move from 15 to 8, where they took Conklin two spots ahead of the Giants. Then, right on cue, the Bears sent a fourth-round pick to Tampa Bay to move up from 11 to 9, where they stole Floyd away from the Giants.
The Giants, according to sources, had opportunities to make at least one of those deals, but Reese refused. And when their favorite players were gone, they had multiple opportunities to trade down -- including with the Jets, who wanted to move up from 20 to take Tunsil. Reese refused all offers to do that too.
Instead, despite having given cornerback Janoris Jenkins a five-year, $62.5 million a month earlier, and even though cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie had three years left on his five-year, $35 million contract, Reese selected the next player on his board, even though he was a cornerback. The Giants had Apple rated slightly higher than Florida's Vernon Hargreaves, who went one pick later to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
And Reese's explanation made sense. "When you have two corners in this league, you're short one," he said that day. "You've got to have three quality corners to really get out there and function at a high level, I think."
That's true. But in Apple, the Giants had taken a player whose maturity was an open question among NFL scouts. There was a famous pre-draft report in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that mentioned how Apple couldn't cook for himself. It also questioned his lack of "life skills" and called him "just a baby" -- labels that seem prescient this year.
Apple has had a tumultuous year personally. His mother underwent brain surgery in the middle of the season. And, as detailed in NJ.com, he had a falling out with his stepfather that led to other family drama. Whether that was the cause or not, he ended up having major issues with the Giants, including fights with coaches and staff members and arguments with teammates that eventually led safety Landon Collins to call him "a cancer."
So was it a mistake for the Giants to draft him? No doubt mistakes were made. The most egregious was Reese standing pat while the Titans and Bears made well-telegraphed moves to trade up for the players the Giants wanted. His draft-day stubbornness, willingness to trust his draft board, and his faith that things will work out, cost the Giants valuable players they desperately needed.
Conklin was an all-pro right tackle for the Titans as a rookie. Floyd has battled injuries with the Bears, but he has 11 ½ sacks in 22 starts.
As for Tunsil -- who has made 29 starts at left guard and left tackle for the Miami Dolphins, who drafted him at 13 -- it's hard to fault the Giants for passing in the context of the craziness of the draft. Remember, it wasn't just the drugs, it was the fear of the unknown. Right after he was selected, pictures were posted to his Instagram account of text messages that appeared to show him asking an Ole Miss coach for money -- money he later admitted he took.
It was an avalanche of bad information and no one knew where it was coming from or how much more there was.
And even without that, the Giants were surely wary of picking a player who would've been depicted wearing a gas-mask bong the next day on the back page of the New York tabloids.
In hindsight, should they have taken him? Sure. His presence could've allowed the struggling Ereck Flowers to move to right tackle. He obviously would've helped stabilize what has become a bad offensive line. But the Giants' bigger mistake was not trading up for the players they wanted -- something Reese never did in the 11 first rounds he worked as the Giants GM.
He always preferred to patiently wait and trust what was on his draft board. But given the circumstances of the first round of the 2016 draft, that strategy was clearly wrong.