The old adage that defense wins championships may or may not be true, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a title-winning team that didn’t build heavily through the draft. Rookie classes, naturally, are evaluated on the perceived upside of the NFL newcomers, but which rookies are ready to contribute right out of the gate? And, how do they fit in with their new team schematically?
To help us forecast the immediate future of these NFL neophytes, we enlisted the help of draft guru Dave-Te Thomas who has served as a scouting personnel consultant to NFL teams for multiple decades.
General manager Jerry Reese went to the credit union often during the offseason, spending over $200MM to improve his team’s defensive front seven issues. But, despite some questionable purchases, the draft provided the team with two stud newcomers in cornerback Eli Apple and receiver Sterling Shepard, as both are expected to immediately contribute. Cooper Taylor’s tenure with New York could be coming to an end, especially if third round pick, Darian Thompson, is as good as he advertised during mini camp.
While Shepard is expected to at least earn a slot position, he could move outside if Victor Cruz continues to deal with injury issues. If Cruz fails to return to form, California free agent, Darius Powe, or off-the-field bad boy, Roger Lewis, might have a chance to secure the final receiver spot coming out of training camp.
First Round – Eli Apple , CB (Ohio State, No. 10 overall)
Our staff touted Eli Apple as the best cornerback in the draft not named Jalen Ramsey since Day One. We even provided our contracted teams with a very detailed statistical comparison chart that featured Apple, Ramsey, Mackensie Alexander, Vernon Hargreaves III, and William Jackson III. It seems Giants brass agreed, taking the Buckeye with the tenth pick.
The early first round surprise could be starting by the time the season opener rolls around, at least as the nickel corner. He’s likely to ease Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie off the roster after the season to take his place opposite high-priced Rams addition, Janoris Jenkins. The first thing you notice about this former Buckeye is his natural playmaking instincts. He understands how receivers are trying to attack coverage and he is a master at reading quarterbacks’ eyes when having to drop into zone coverage. He also does an excellent job of mid-pointing high-low routes.
Apple is an explosive, quick-twitch athlete with a sudden closing burst, especially when receivers catch the ball in front of him. He possesses that second gear needed to track the ball downfield and he’s fast enough to recover when gets caught out of position. Thanks to his fluid hips, he can make the smooth transition when forced to change directions quickly. When he stays under control and keeps his knees bent, is a good tackler in space.
The two-time letter-winner started all but one of the 28 games he has appeared in. As a redshirt freshman, he collected 53 tackles and broke up thirteen passes, as opposing quarterbacks often tried to challenge the first-time starter. Eight of those thirteen pass break-ups came on third-down snaps and all three of his interceptions were followed by Buckeyes touchdown drives during their 2014 national championship campaign.
The Buckeyes cornerback can consistently break up passes when in position, as he also has the athleticism to reach around the receiver and disrupt the action without committing the penalty. When he breaks up those passes, more often it is the result of violent hits right as the ball arrives. While not a valid ball thief, he does have the natural hands to reach out and pluck the ball to make the tough interception.
Teams were very leery to fire the ball into Apple’s territory in 2015, and he managed just 28 tackles, as a result. However, he impressed scouts with his outstanding coverage skills, as he not only defended nine passes (including one interception), but only 14-of-67 passes targeted in his area were completed (20.9%). He delivered twenty third-down stops, three more on fourth-down snaps. Proving to be one of the most physical cornerbacks in college, he jammed/rerouted his main pass coverage assignments away from 38 incomplete passes last season, the second-highest total in the NCAA FBS ranks. In short: the future is bright for the Giants’ first-round choice.
Continue reading about the Giants’ rookies..