The Giants.com staff discusses which returning player(s) could take a big step forward in 2018:
With all the new additions to the Giants, today we look at the returning players on the roster and asked our writers which one could step up in 2018.
I'm going to go with Eli Apple. After a strong rookie campaign, Apple regressed last year with issues both on and off the field. He still has all the talent in the world, and the Giants need him to find it. Right now, Janoris Jenkins is the only cornerback on the roster with extensive starting experience. With Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie no longer with the team, Apple will be relied upon to handle his side of the field.
He has all the tools: size, length, speed and physicality. There are things he needs to clean up, like getting his head turned with the ball in the air, but the raw talent is there if he can put it all together. The secondary often gets overlooked when you talk about the Giants' needs, but corners who can cover man-on-man are awfully important to James Bettcher's system. Eli Apple can be one of those guys, he just needs to go out there and do it. Dave Gettleman and Pat Shurmur have both stated unequivocally that he has a clean slate and now Apple has to capitalize on it.
My close runner up here is Ereck Flowers, who despite the addition of Nate Solder, still needs to improve his play as he competes for the starting right tackle job. In the modern NFL, pass rushers line up over the right tackle just as much as the left and Eli Manning needs to have confidence Flowers can block guys like DeMarcus Lawrence, Ryan Kerrigan and Brandon Graham.
I think sophomore defensive end Avery Moss is an intriguing name to keep in mind. I'll be interested to see where he begins in the pecking order at OTAs and how he progresses from there. For the past couple years, the Giants have looked for depth on the edge only to end up playing Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon virtually every snap. The issue took another turn recently when the team traded JPP to Tampa Bay, so there is an even bigger void as James Bettcher installs his multiple 3-4 scheme as defensive coordinator. The Giants brought in some of his old players from Arizona, like Kareem Martin, to help with the transition. But they will need some returning players to step up. Moss will be a prime candidate. He's a big defensive end who can stop the run, and the team hopes he is only scratching the surface. Maybe the new scheme will jumpstart his career.
In 2016, Eli Apple appeared in 14 games with 11 starts as a rookie. He finished first among Giants corners in tackles with 51. His versatility also gave defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo options on the back end of the defense. Based on his play two years ago, he entered his sophomore campaign as a starting outside corner with high expectations, but duplicating that production proved to be challenging. Apple played in New York's first seven games but following the bye only appeared in three contests on defense and was ultimately suspended by the team for the regular season finale.
Given the Giants parted ways with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie this offseason and lost Ross Cockrell in free agency, combined with Janoris Jenkins coming off a season-ending injury, the team needs Eli Apple to step up and become a reliable option in 2018. While DRC's departure is notable, don't overlook Cockrell. He appeared in all 16 games, including nine starts, in 2017 and was a productive player down the stretch of the season. Those are two voids the Giants will have to fill in the secondary. With a new head coach and defensive coordinator, it's a completely fresh slate for Apple, and I can't think of a better opportunity for a returning defensive player than what Apple has in front of him. The Giants added three corners in free agency, but two of those players (B.W. Webb and Teddy Williams) didn't play in 2017, so in terms of recent experience, Apple certainly has a leg up on the competition.