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Bengals’ Eli Apple finally finding his footing

The Giants’ first-round selection in 2016 is beginning to live up to his billing.

Syndication: The Enquirer
Eli Apple after breaking up an intended touchdown pass in the first half of the Broncos’ game.
Albert Cesare / The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

The NFL career of Cincinnati Bengals starting cornerback Eli Apple did not get off to a very good start. Actually, that’s putting it nicely.

Safety Landon Collins, who was Apple’s teammate with the New York Giants during the first two years of his career, had this to say about the former first-round pick:

“There is only one corner who needs to grow up, and we all know who that is,” Collins told ESPN at the time. “That would be the only person I would change out of our secondary group. Besides, the other two guys, [Rodgers-Cromarie] and [Jenkins], I love those two guys. They play hard. They love what they do. That first pick...he’s a cancer.”

Collins would eventually tone down his criticism, noting that Apple had off-the-field issues that affected his play.

“As a player, he’s a great player,” Collins said. “As a man, he has his ups and downs. But when he’s on the field, I think he’s trying to be as much accountable as he can. He understands, I think the business side of the game did it to him, because this game is not for long. And I think he finally understands that even if you’re a first-rounder, you can always be cut.”

It may have taken a while, but the Eli Apple of 2021 bears little resemblance to the man in the Giants’ defensive backfield in 2017.

“He does what we ask him to do,” Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said of the 26-year-old Apple recently. “We expect our guys to play at a high level and Eli’s got a short memory, you know, if you give up a play that corners are going to give up he does a great job kinda putting that away and moving onto the next play and that’s critical. It’s one of the hardest positions to play in all of football.”

And Apple has been playing the position well, especially lately. Although Pro Football Focus currently rates Apple as No. 79 among eligible cornerbacks with an overall score of 59.7, he has been outstanding in his last couple of games.

Against the Las Vegas Raiders in week 11, Apple had an interception and a fumble recovery and earned an overall mark of 87.1. He was targeted three times and only surrendered 27 yards. Derek Carr’s passer rating against Apple was only 55.6.

The following week in the win over the Steelers, Apple had another interception, which he returned for 50 yards. He more than held his own against the Chargers and the 49ers in the succeeding weeks, and was the shutdown corner last week against the Broncos that the Giants envisioned when they drafted him in the first round in 2016.

Apple held Denver receiver Jerry Jeudy, the Broncos’ top-15 pick from 2020, to no receptions on four targets.