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Rookie Progress Report: CB Eli Apple

Posted Jun 21, 2016

Giants.com's Dan Salomone takes an in-depth look at the 2016 rookie class following the offseason program:  

Half a year has passed since rookies played in their last college game, and yet they’ve never been busier.

Over that time, the NFL’s incoming class prepared for the combine, participated in the combine, held Pro Days, anxiously awaited the draft results, and reported for rookie minicamp before being thrown into the deep end with veterans during spring practices. Such is life for an athlete trying to make it to the professional level.

>> READ: OFFSEASON SURPRISES

The rookies are around another week for the league’s transition program, but after that, they’ll enjoy a break before reporting for training camp on July 28. So now’s a good time to gauge their progress heading into summer.

Today’s rookie report is on cornerback Eli Apple, the first-round pick out of Ohio State.

CATCHING THE GIANTS’ EYE

There was a lot of hype around Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes in this year’s draft, and rightfully so. Ohio State went on to set a record with 10 players selected in the first three rounds.

That included Apple, the No. 10 overall pick who started as a freshman on a national championship-winning team. He was named a freshman All-American in 2014 and picked up All-Big Ten honors with a Fiesta Bowl Defensive MVP Award to go with it in 2015.

>> READ: APPLE TURNING HEADS AT PRACTICE

“In the fall, when you go to Ohio State, you know you’re coming there for some seniors, but you’re coming for this star-studded class of juniors that they have there that are coming off the board and more to come,” said Marc Ross, the team’s vice president of player evaluation. “You’ve got your eye on them, and then obviously once [Apple] declares, then you hit it hard. We’ve got three area guys going to Ohio State. I’ve been there for the Pro Day, Combine, and the whole deal. He’s been vetted thoroughly.”

DRAFT NIGHT

If you have two corners in this league, you’re short one because of how often teams use three wide receivers. That was part of the thinking that went into drafting Apple, who joined veterans Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Janoris Jenkins in the cornerbacks room. General manager Jerry Reese said Apple has all the tools of a starting-caliber corner in the NFL.

“All that’s part of the equation, but what he does on the field, how he played, he’s a big-time player [from] a big-time program,” Reese said. “He’s 20, he’s got a huge upside, he was the highest player on our board, it’s a need pick. We’re very happy to have Eli Apple on the New York Giants football team.”

FIRST IMPRESSION AT ROOKIE MINICAMP

The highlight of rookie minicamp was a play between Apple and Sterling Shepard, the Oklahoma wide receiver taken in the second round. Apple won that round with an interception that tipped off Shepard’s hands, preventing what was surely going to be a long touchdown.

>> READ: FACT OR FICTION

“I saw the end result,” coach Ben McAdoo said at the time. “Eli did a great job of coming up with the football right there. I think [Shepard] won early on the route but he made up for it, he had nice catch-up speed right there and showed nice ball skills at the end.”

LEARNING THE SLOT DURING OTAS

The Giants rotated Apple, DRC, and Jenkins around a lot throughout organized team activities and into minicamp. All three saw time outside and inside depending on the look that defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo wanted to try out.

“It will be a little different,” Apple said of playing the slot. “It’s a lot different from playing on the outside because the outside is a little bit more simple. Inside, you have to communicate a little bit more and just know a little bit of what everybody else is doing. It is going to be a little bit of transition, but I’m looking forward to it.”

ENDING MINICAMP ON A HIGH NOTE

The Giants wrapped up their offseason workout program last week with a three-day mandatory minicamp.

In the final full practice of spring, Apple turned in his best tape yet, saving a pair of touchdowns and breaking up a handful of other passes.

>> READ: MINICAMP STANDOUT PLAYERS

“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,” Spagnuolo said. “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. 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.”

AREAS FOR IMPROVEMENT

Despite his rising draft stock, Apple managed only one interception in his final year at Ohio State. McAdoo said that when he learns to “catch the flash of the ball a little bit better, which he will and he showed he improved on, he will have more opportunities for picks, for sure.” Meanwhile, Spagnuolo also saw a lot of “hidden production” because Apple was a press corner and college teams didn’t throw his way too often in 2015. But the NFL is a whole different ballgame.

“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,” Spagnuolo said. “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.”