I have never been a scout or a NFL general manager, but I am willing to watch a ton of football. By watching about 200 snaps of each prospect, we can really get a feel for a player and then know what we are talking about a bit better. It is no exact science, but the NFL hasn't quite figured out drafting either, so we are going to do the best we can. To read more about the 2016 NFL Draft Project, click here.
Eli Apple, CB, Ohio State - 6-foot-1, 200 pounds - redshirt sophomore - No. 13
If you were to design the perfect measurements for an NFL corner, he would likely be a player with the height of roughly 6-1, weight of about 200, a 40-yard dash time of around 4.40 and long arms. Mix in a physical and competitive disposition and you are then exactly where you want to be -- in the lab of designing a first round pick. And, even though this requires us to head back to our stack of Ohio State tapes for yet another Buckeye in this process, there is every reason to believe that Eli (formerly last name "Woodard") will have his name called on Day 1 for all of these reasons.
The corner crop this year is a bit difficult to read because you have some undersized players who seem to be at the top, and a lack of the new-age corner that breaks 6-foot, allowing a player like Apple -- who only played two seasons in Columbus -- to shoot right to the top of the list when he declared after playing all sorts of press coverage and press-bail in his time with the Buckeyes (which saw him step on the field in 2014 and play well from the first day on the job).
To break him down, we spent time on the Michigan State, Notre Dame and Penn State games in particular, with a few others sprinkled in for good measure -- primarily off his 2015 tape.
What I liked: Well, the thing that sticks out quickly with Eli Apple is immense athleticism for a man his size that allows him to run hip to hip with most any receiver he faces, as if he is one of those tiny corners but still is nearly the biggest a corner will ever be. This is superb, of course, because it offers very little for a quarterback to see which, in turn, results in very little action in his direction just about every game you watch. Opposing quarterbacks treat him as a shutdown corner and, although that is not a designation I am willing to place on him at this point of the NFL, he certainly has the characteristics to become that. He prefers and excels in press-man coverage, which could be improved upon with a little more physicality at the line of scrimmage, but even without textbook jams, he has no problem running with guys and mirroring them. He has pretty strong ball skills once he finds it in flight (not always a given). Also, he can tackle and play run support at times, but this is also part of the enigma of Apple -- he shows you he is capable of many things, just not consistent with them.
What I did not like: As I referenced above, you see him do things well in flashes, but there are times when his attention span wanders or his perhaps his intensity does. Regardless, there are times when he doesn't look particularly interested in run support, and times when he doesn't even look for the football in flight, which costs him. A great coverage corner can only be great if he knows where the ball is. But, the biggest issue that is not easily solvable with just a little more intensity is that he is overly physical with his man, and this has the real potential to make him a penalty machine. Surely, there are times when it seems like the NFL doesn't care about downfield grabbing and tugging and holding by its defensive backs (Seattle games, in particular), but when the league cracks down on offenders who defend with their hands too much, Apple will be a quick target. It is odd, because again, he doesn't jam his man, which suggests he isn't physical, but when they get 5-10 yards downfield, he is often all over the guy with frustrating physical tactics that he really doesn't need to employ because he is so athletic.
Summary and potential fit with the Cowboys: As I have indicated for just about every cornerback in this top 50, there is no question that every team in the league can use another big one. And, like so many bigger corners before him, it sure seems like he has all the attributes you seek in a guy who, at times, will completely shut down his side of the field.
I am awfully torn about this crop of corners because it is difficult to find a no-brainer who can lock down and make a difference on every play, but there are certainly a few who could grow into that role. Apple checks so many boxes and has always been the most athletic guy on the field in any game he has ever played. He is rarely attacked, very confident and when he is engaged, you can squint and see a real player here.
So, for a fit with Dallas: He is right there if they would choose to go get another corner. I prefer Jalen Ramsey as a football player, but that is because of his skill set at the safety position. If I am simply looking for a big corner with real lockdown potential, I think Apple has all the tools you would seek, and at 20 years old, his ceiling is quite high.