2016 NFL Draft Player Profiles: Ohio State CB Eli Apple

#13, Eli Apple/CB Ohio State — 6’1”, 200

The Good

– Mirrors well in man-to-man coverage
– Flips hips quickly to run with receiver; rarely gets turned around off the line
– Quick, clean footwork
– Thinks like a receiver when the ball is in the air; fights for every pass his way looking for an INT; great ball skills/body control in the air
– Reads keys well in run game
– Good feel/instincts in zone coverage; able to lock eyes onto QB and still feel where WR is at
– Intriguing height, weight and length for boundary corner
– Possesses size, strength and athleticism to play against physical receivers and diminutive, quick-twitch receivers
– Has underrated play strength to knock receivers off of routes
– Developed into shutdown corner for Buckeyes; negated one side of field throughout B1G Ten play in ‘15

The Bad

– Allows blockers to get into his frame and take him out of the play
– Long, lanky frame gives him trouble when it’s time to be physical at point of attack
– Poor technique in red zone; allowed clean inside release to Amari Cooper in ’14 College Football Playoff for easy touchdown
– Doesn’t break down to make tackle in space; below-average tackling technique overall
– Misses far too many tackles
– Lacks physicality and seems hesitant to stick nose into the fray
– Despite reading keys well, rarely attacks downhill with conviction against the run
– Can get a bit touchy in coverage and has a tendency to grab receiver if he feels he beat on the play; had seven pass interference penalties and four holding penalties in two years as starter
– Would rather go around blocker on the edge, instead of working through blocker; takes himself out of the play this way
– Slow to find football on deep throws despite having great ball skills
– Needs to learn to trust his feet and feel during the play; seems to second-guess himself at times

Other

– Two-year starter at OSU after redshirting his freshman year
– Finished as top 10 tackler for Buckeyes in 2014; recorded 53 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 13 passes defended, 10 pass breakups and three interceptions during redshirt freshman year
– Recorded first career interception against Virginia Tech
– Recorded interception on final play of National Championship Game against Oregon in ‘14
– Played some of his best ball in ’14 during final three games; recorded five tackles against Wisconsin (B1G Ten title game) and against Alabama
– Recorded career-high seven tackles against Oregon in ‘14
– Named a freshman All-American by Athlon Sports and Scout.com
– Was an early enrollee in Spring ’13 for Buckeyes; ESPN Top 150 recruit
– No. 1 prospect in New Jersey; was as high as No. 11 prospect nationally
– Numbers decreased in ’15; recorded just 33 tackles, eight pass breakups, two tackles for loss and one interception, but that had to do with QB’s not throwing to his side of the field

Tape Breakdown

I’ve talked a lot about Eli Apple lately, simply because I keep seeing his name linked to the Steelers in the number of mock drafts I’ve read over the last month or so.

On paper, Apple is an intriguing prospect due to his frame, which screams press corner. However, Apple was rarely — if ever — asked to use the press technique in his two years at Ohio State. Add into the fact that he’s simply not a physical corner and it calls into question what role he’ll play in the NFL.

While we won’t know how he tests until his Pro Day workouts and possible NFL Scouting Combine invite, Apple has the appearance on tape of an athletic corner that can run with the best receivers in football.

I love his quick feet and his ability to mirror receivers and run their routes for them. In terms of pure coverage ability he’s going to be well worth the draft pick, especially considering today’s style of football.

By combining his quick feet at the snap and the way he can mirror receivers, Apple rarely gets lost in coverage. On top of that, he has a great feel for the game when he is asked to work in man coverage.

Take a look at the way he is able to read the Northern Illinois quarterback while still being able to sink into the zone and pick this pass off with ease.

You see this from very instinctive, athletic corners at the next level; that’s what Apple is.

You’ll have a tough time finding a route that Apple gets turned around on at the line of scrimmage because the receiver beats him. As a former high school receiver, the footwork and feel for what the receiver is looking to do off the line will do wonders for him in the NFL, speeding up his development.

Take a look at the way he’s able to lock up with Michigan State’s Aaron Burbridge here. Apple is with him step-for-step on the hitch route. Most college corners would get turned around on this play as Burbridge slams on the breaks and comes to a quick stop.

Not Apple; his footwork and fluid hips allow him to stay right on Burbridge the entire time. He’s in great position to make the tackle for a minimal gain, and yet…

A major concern with Apple at the next level is his lack of physicality for the position and his below-average tackling technique.

For a guy with his size and arm length (nothing official on that until Combine/Pro Day), Apple should be a much better tackler. The technique can be worked on once he reaches the next level. Unfortunately, you can’t teach someone to want to be physical.

Take a look at this clip here where he simply catches the Northern Illinois running back as he comes through the hole with a head of steam. Luckily for Apple, a teammate is able to get around the running back’s waist, but this is a very poor play for Apple.

Sure, it will go into the stats sheet as an assisted tackle, but this could have likely resulted in an embarrassing sequence of events for the Ohio State corner.

While tackling is a major issue — I could show you a large number of clips where he misses tackles or takes poor angles and takes himself out of the play altogether — another issue that concerns me is the mental lapses that the redshirt sophomore is prone to.

Take this clip against Alabama in the 2014 Sugar Bowl for example. Deep in Ohio State territory, it’s obvious that the Crimson Tide has to pass to get back into the game.

Near his own goal line Apple is lined up in man coverage against Amari Cooper. Apple has no safety help and should be trying to funnel Cooper to the sideline. However, Apple starts to back off at the snap (why?!) and gives Cooper a clean, easy release on the slant route for an easy touchdown.

Plays like that will put Apple on the sidelines quickly at the next level.

While I do have my issues with Apple, I would not be disappointed if the Steelers were to select him late on day two or early on day three. That’s where I see Apple going heading into the draft.

I get that the secondary is a major issue for the Steelers and everyone wants them to take that first round corner or safety that will fix a glaring hole for the next 6-8 years, but taking a project like Apple in the first round isn’t worth it to me.

I love his coverage skills and instincts when defending the pass, but I can’t look past his issues with tackling to think he’s going to be a Day One starter for a team in need of a boost in round one at the cornerback position.

Projection:  Late-2nd, Early-3rd

Games Watched: Vs. Alabama (2014 Sugar Bowl), vs. Oregon (National Title Game), vs. Northern Illinois, vs. Michigan State

  • Nicholas Allen Cotner

    That goal line sequence is ugly……yikes

  • Spencer Krick

    Good to know more about him, I’ve seen that name everywhere.

    That being said, not at 25.

  • Ike Evans

    Not a fan….though, bradley roby was probably more of a risk coming out of osu and denver has developed him well…so theres definately upside with this kid….im just not a fan

  • budabar

    That goal line (“cover”) reminded me of blake– OUCH

  • Alex Kozora

    To be fair, that’s bail technique, and that is by design. Check the CB on the other side open his hips to the field. So can’t blame Apple for that, though being asked to do that on the GL is a little curious. He did struggle to close at the top of the route though.

  • SkoolHouseRoxx

    I can’t wait to see some of these guys at the combine! If he’s there second round go for it, don’t see him going past the first tho.

  • PittsburghSports

    Concerning that a CB with that size is described as lacking physicality with poor tackling technique.

  • PittsburghSports

    Good catch. Looks like the Safety, Von Bell, is too busy making a heart sign in the air.

  • Steve Johnson

    Over-Rated.Maybe in the 3rd, this kid isn’t worthy of being selected in the 1st Rd. With that said, I’m sure Tomlin will fall in love with him. Who in the world evaluates the DB’s for the Steelers?

  • Sdale

    Great breakdown. The issues against the run were what stood out to me as well when I watched him. We don’t need another terrible tacker in the secondary…especially when some of it is effort related.

  • Sdale

    I’m sure it’s a combination, but I would like to know who that combination of evaluators is. It hasn’t been good.

  • steelburg

    I haven’t been a fan from day 1 at least not in the 1st round. He reminds me of Cortez Allen big for the position but he just grabs and holds a little to much for my liking. I like the late 2nd early 3rd round projection for him.

  • Josh Carney

    Good point. Regardless, he doesn’t close well on the top of the route. I hate the position he’s put in here. Easy TD for Cooper.

  • Josh Carney

    He’s very soft for his size.

  • Josh Carney

    Pretty much how I feel, Ike.

  • Josh Carney

    I’ve seen some people comparing him to Trumaine Johnson from Los Angeles and I just don’t see it.

  • Alex Kozora

    The ‘ol right fielder picking dandelions technique.

  • SFIC

    Thanks Josh. Finally someone has Apple graded where he should be. In a weak CB draft there will be tendencies to elevate the grades of players to balance things out. Even though it didn’t bother me, a lot of mocks have us taking Apple at 25. He will probably show well at the combine too. But all the Steelers need to do is watch the game film. Apple’s tackling ability is lacking big time and that is one trait that is essential to all Steeler defenders. I doubt Tomlin will oversee this. It bothers me that Apple appears to at times shy away or is hesitant of getting into the play.

  • SFIC

    By the way Josh, I would like to start a Sheldon Rankins buzz here. He reminds me a lot of Geno Atkins and Aaron Donald. He can play all over the line. I think he is stout enough to play NT and his pass rush skills are off the charts. With the emergence of multiple sets it would sure be nice to have a weapon like him in the middle of Heyward & Tuitt on passing downs. When you get a chance it would be great to see a profile on him. 🙂

  • Josh Carney

    We’ll have a profile on him here soon. He won’t be around when the Steelers pick at No. 25 though.

  • Joeybaggadonuts

    Nothing glaring in his technique….the play against Cooper was a combo good offensive design taking the LB out of the lane and lining up head up instead of taking the inside away. On the run, he had a good angle and chested the runner…he should have made the tackle on the catch as he was in position to…he’ll fit in good.

  • SFIC

    Thanks Josh!
    You never know, he could be there. He’s just under 6′-2″ which might be a red flag. Also, the tape I watched showed him getting doubled teamed a lot and also, he has the tendency to stall while looking into the backfield….so there’s not a lot of highlights.

  • Rusted Out

    Am I missing something? I see nothing special about this kid at all, yet all I read about is how he’s the #3 corner in the entire draft, and he’s shooting up the boards. At the very least, he’s a reach in the first round. I’m praying to the football gods they have a shot at Ramsey or Hargreves (doubt either makes it out of the top 15). One can dream.

  • steelburg

    I really don’t think that’s a bad comparison if your looking at what he could potentially develop into. But looking at what he currently is he reminds me more of what Cortez Allen currently is.

  • jujudoublestuff

    Don’t pick a CB at 25 because of potential. If he isn’t a sure thing, pass.

  • Ernest

    I’m with you. Potential gets coaches fired. Considering the general consensus that Lake is not the greatest talent developer, potential and Lake would not be a good combination.

  • Shane Mitchell

    If he can’t tackle or is unwilling, he shouldn’t even be on the Steelers draft board, let alone a potential 1st round pick. Steeler’s CBs have to be able to play the run and not miss tackles first and foremost.

  • Shane Mitchell

    What about a Kendall Fuller profile?

  • LucasY59

    Atkins and Donald are the a bit smaller than Rankins so his size is not an issue, he might still be available at 25, but it wont be his size that makes him slide, it will be the other talented DL that are also avaiable.

  • LucasY59

    agree he should be a potential 2nd rd pick (maybe even 3rd) for the Steelers, but I would be disappointed if they took him in the 1st (he has all the hype of being taken in the 1st) someone else can reach for him in the 1st, but I really hope its not the Steelers

    I think with his size he has some great potential (but should be a much better tackler with that size) like another commentor wrote, he reminds me way too much of Cortez Allen, so I would hate to have double the problem they already have by drafting Apple (maybe in the 2nd if he is BPA, but most likely the 3rd is the earliest that he is worth the risk)

  • Banastre Tarleton

    The “consensus” is guessing.

  • Banastre Tarleton

    Give the “evaluators” a break. Most of the guys they have been drafting are mid to late round picks.

  • Josh Carney

    Fuller is coming later today. Just finishing it up.

  • Steve Johnson

    A break? No! Too many other teams seem to do just fine drafting CB’s/DB’S in the later Rds. The Steelers need to do a better job of evaluating these guys.

  • Steve Johnson

    Dream Brother, Dream! I hope your dream comes true. I think Ramsey is the only CB worthy of a top 15 pick. I like the kid from Iowa, can’t recall his name. He might be there in the 2nd. From what I’ve been reading, a lot of teams will be picking DL and DB’s in this Draft.

  • Edward Hunt

    I think we have had so many problems in coverage I wouldn’t mind this pick. I don’t see him being the pick though because the steelers go after guys they want instead of need. A guy who is strong in coverage but a weak tackler is more of a need than a want