The Giants surprised many draftniks this spring when they chose Ohio State CB Eli Apple with the 10th overall selection in the NFL Draft.
Having lost out on several rumored targets such as Georgia OLB Leonard Floyd and Michigan State OT Jack Conklin, the Giants grabbed the highest-rated player on their board, which turned out to be Apple.
Many questioned the pick, as most had Florida CB Vernon Hargreaves higher than Apple, who was expected to be taken in the late teens or early 20s. The Giants had different ideas.
"Eli Apple, cornerback, Ohio State. A really good, young player," GM Jerry Reese said in a press conference after the first round of the draft. "Height, weight, speed. Big school. Only 20 years old. Has all the tools. He holds all the tools to be a starter. He was the highest-graded player on our board, beyond the guys with issues."
By "issues," Reese was referring to Ole Miss OT Laremy Tunsil, who was blown up by an internet video which showed him consuming marijuana through a gas mask. Tunsil began draft week a top-three prospect and was on the board when the Giants' turn to select arrived. The Giants instead went the safe route with Apple, who was a competitive player in a top program, but appears to lack the experience to make the jump to NFL starter.
In a recent article called "Five NFL Rookies Set to Disappoint in 2016" on the website Sportsnaut.com, Vincent Frank lists Apple as a prime candidate to under perform this season. Citing a lack of experience, even though Apple started for two seasons at OSU, Frank believes the Giants' secondary will be vulnerable this season if they put Apple on the outside in coverage.
The 6-foot-1 corner struggles diagnosing what the quarterback is doing early in plays, leaving him vulnerable over the top. Add in slow reactionary skills on the outside, and he's going to need help on the back end out of the gate.
Unfortunately, the Giants overpaid for CB Janoris Jenkins in free agency. He's also vulnerable to being beaten over the top, meaning that help will likely have to be thrown his way.
Without a truly elite cover safety on the roster, the Giants are going to struggle in coverage this coming season. Relying on Apple to play a large role would only magnify this further. The team would be best served by taking it slow with him.
Much of this is debatable as the author has no inkling of how the Giants plan to use any of their new additions. Jenkins is an active corner that is still on the upward trajectory of his career. What the writer fails to mention is that Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is actually the Giants' No. 1 corner. Jenkins will likely be lined up accross from the opponent's second WR.
The Giants originally thought Apple could start his NFL career as the slot corner, a position he never played at Ohio State.
"I think he can play all over," Reese stated when asked if Apple could play in the slot. "He is big, he's over six foot. He's a 200-pounder, ran 4.4. He can play somewhere back there for us."
Thus far in OTAs and minicamp, Apple has been impressive. Let us not forget that he has gone up against top WR talent here with the Giants, a factor many pundits seem to forget. Apple was charged many times this spring with covering the great Odell Beckham, Jr. and mercurial rookie Sterling Shepard.
"He is still a rookie, so there has been a bit of a learning curve here, but I will say this, I do see a competitive guy there," DC Steve Spagnuolo said of Apple this spring. "I think that if you are going to play that position in this league, that is the first thing you have got to have, and I think that some of the guys around him have gotten confident in him."
"He has made a lot of plays here," Spagnuolo continued. "He has gone against Odell a couple times, and I guess the interesting question would be to ask Odell. Those guys usually have a better idea of the skills of the people they are going against, but we are pleased with his progress right now."
Apple, if anything, has shown a prowess for getting to the football and breaking up passes. He has also shown that he is not afraid to mix it up with receivers and may have to dial that back to prevent drawing penalty flags. Spagnuolo will have to hone Apple's skills a bit, but overall liked what he saw.
"What is interesting for a rookie, especially with that position, is when you get in the real game is the grabbing and tugging and some of that stuff you are not going to get away with, so I am always warning him about that, but at this point I would rather see him compete and do whatever he has to do to win."
Apple steadily made improvements as the offseason program went on. He realizes that the pro game is just as much mental as it is physical at times and plans to continue make adjustments.
"Just knowing where to line up, knowing different tricks," Apple told reporters at minicamp last month. "Every receiver presents something different, so you just have to be on top of everything."
As for the touching and grabbing, Apple knows he can get a reputation real quick in the league and is confident in addressing the issue.
"You just have to work on your feet. That is the main thing," he said. "Just making sure that you are watching yourself on film and try to get rid of the bad habits that you were doing in college. Whenever I am home, I am just doing little things with my feet and press technique, just trying to incorporate feet before hands."
Pundits and bloggers not close to the Giants are welcome to make these predictions, but those close to the team know differently.
Apple is a special player who gets better every time he takes the field. He may get schooled on occasion as a rookie, but the bottom line is the Giants have a player here -- one that will learn from his mistakes and make a difference on the Giants' defense.