Big Ten quarterbacks made it a point to avoid star Ohio State cornerback Eli Apple last year. Now NFL quarterbacks may have to do the same.
The New York Giants selected Apple in the top 10, grabbing the lengthy cornerback with the No. 10 pick. Apple, who was the No. 1 ranked football prospect in New Jersey when he came out of high school, was redshirted in his freshman season at Ohio State. But once he stepped onto the field in 2014, he immediately made an impact.
Apple's run at Ohio State started with adversity. Throughout his first year with the team, he battled an iron deficiency that zapped his strength. He made up for lost time, though, performing exceptionally well as a redshirted freshman. His breakout game occurred Nov. 8, 2014 against Michigan State, in which he recorded four tackles -- including a crucial takedown on fourth down -- and two pass deflections in the win.
Apple was all over the field in 2014, finishing the year with 53 tackles to go along with three interceptions. But he saved his best moment for last, intercepting Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota to ice Ohio State's win in the national championship.
Apple continued to play well in 2015, which led him to be one of the first non-senior players to declare for the draft. He followed up his sensational freshman campaign by being named second-team all-conference and capturing the Defensive MVP trophy for his effort in the Fiesta Bowl against Notre Dame. Apple held speedster Will Fuller to just 32 yards on five catches.
At 6'1, 199 pounds, Apple possesses the perfect physique to play cornerback in the NFL. In addition, he's shown the ability to play press man, meaning he has the ability to take on top receivers one-on-one. (Photos via Land-Grant Holy Land:)
Apple continued to impress at the combine, running the 40-yard dash in 4.40. It was the fourth-best time among cornerbacks.
Though Apple's performance was impressive, he made headlines for a different reason in Indianapolis for something he had nothing to do with. An Atlanta Falcons coach asked him if he liked men, which is in violation of the NFL's anti-discrimination policy. Apple recounted the incident with aplomb on Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia a couple of weeks later.
"The Falcons coach, one of the coaches, was like, 'So do you like men?' It was like the first thing he asked me," Apple said. "It was weird. I was just like, 'no.' He was like, 'if you're going to come to Atlanta, sometimes that's how it is around here, you're going to have to get used to it.' I guess he was joking but they just ask most of these questions to see how you're going to react."
The way Apple handled the encounter and his reaction afterwards is indicative of his maturity level. Though he's just 20 years old, there doesn't appear to much question surrounding whether Apple is personally mature enough to handle the rigors of NFL life –– despite one anonymous scout's ludicrous insistence that his supposed lack of cooking skills is a strike against him. (And for the record, Apple, whose dad is a retired five-star chef, seems to know his way around the kitchen pretty well.)
The one area where Apple's age may hurt him is his relative lack of experience in comparison to other top-round picks. He didn't play much zone coverage at Ohio State, so it may take him a little bit to adjust to complicated defensive schemes at the professional level. But his ability to lockdown one receiver should outweigh that, as an increasing number of NFL teams are looking for cornerbacks who can control one side of the field.
The Buckeyes defense was so dominant last season, an NFL scout said recently he would've traded his team's D for Ohio State's. With Apple and several of his teammates in the pros now, we'll see how good they truly are.
Most expected Florida's Vernon Hargreaves to be the second cornerback off the board after Jalen Ramsey, but Apple snuck ahead and made it into the top 10, which is higher than almost all expected for Apple. But the Giants have made significant investments on defense and know what type of player they are looking for after handing out big money contracts to free agents like Olivier Vernon and Janoris Jenkins.