Summary: Ohio State's loaded roster of future NFL talent is filled with elite athletes and players who have tremendous skill sets to play as professionals. Eli Apple is one of the players who has the most developmental talent of the Buckeyes' abundant class for the 2016 NFL Draft. He has close to a prototype skill set with size, speed, length and strength. The sophomore has the body of a NFL starter and could end up being a very good player.
After redshirting as a freshman, Apple saw the field in 2014 and had an impressive debut, recording 53 tackles with three interceptions and 10 passes broken up on the year. He played really well to close out the season and looked like he was just scratching the surface of what he could be. In 2015, Apple made one interception, eight passes broken up and 33 tackles. He had some coverage lapses early in the season, but played better to close out the year.
For the NFL, Apple would be best as a press-man corner. He can play zone and off man, but he looks more comfortable playing press man. Apple is good at jamming receivers and turning and running with them downfield. He has the height to defend big receivers and the speed to run with quick receivers. As a pro, Apple would fit best in a press-man system.
Apple does need development for the NFL. Sources say they don't like that Apple grabs so much with receivers. He will initiate contact too early and often held onto receivers as they run downfield. Teams believe that Apple is going to get flagged a lot in the NFL until he fixes this issue. Part of the reason why Apple doesn't look as good in off man and zone is he can be slow to break on the ball. He allows receptions in front of him rather than firing hard at the receiver.
At times, Apple wasn't as aggressive defending the run. There were plays where it didn't look as if he was trying hard to get off a block or fire into a scrum to get in on a tackle. It seemed that he was trusting his teammates will make the play. So, there are a few areas that Apple needs to improve to pan out as a pro.
Apple has the potential to be a good starting cornerback. However, he could be better off developing before being an every-down player, similar to former Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby with the Broncos. Sources say that Apple could go late in the first round, or slip to the second round.
Player Comparison: Leon Hall. Hall and Apple are nearly identical in their measurements. Hall (5-11, 195) is a good cover corner who can handle speed receivers and also plays big when he needs to. Hall is more disciplined and fundamentally sound than Apple.
If Apple doesn't land with good coaching or is lazy, he could be a cornerback who is equivalent to say Richard Marshall.
However, if Apple lands with good coaching and works hard to get better he could be a cornerback who is comparable to Hall. Hall was the 18th-overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft. Apple should go later than that by it may not be a big margin.
NFL Matches: Jacksonville, Miami, Tampa Bay, Chicago, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Indianapolis and Washington
There are three options for Apple to land in the state of Florida. The Jaguars' secondary was scorched throughout 2015, and they need to upgrade their cornerbacks. Prince Amukamara only signed a short contract, so the organization could consider Apple in the second round.
The Dolphins need a defensive back to replace Brent Grimes and give them a lead corner. Apple makes sense for Miami in the second round. The Bucs badly need to upgrade their secondary. They have to improve their corners and safeties. Tampa Bay could have a lot of turnover at corner after the 2016 season and could develop Apple for a year before replacing Grimes, Alterraun Verner or Johnthan Banks.
Staying in the NFC South, the Saints allowed a ridiculous amount of touchdown passes last season and could use more cornerback help. The Bears are also in the position of needing an upgrade at corner. Chicago could use a starter to pair with Kyle Fuller.
The Colts and Redskins need help at cornerback. If Apple slides in the second round, he would make sense for Indianapolis or Washington. The Redskins have to replace DeAngelo Hall. The Colts, for their part, need a corner to pair with Vontae Davis.