NFL Draft

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

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