The NFL career of cornerback Eli Apple has been complicated, to say the least.
The 10th overall pick of the New York Giants in 2016, Apple played for three different teams in his first five seasons. In March, he signed with the Bengals and later joined the team for mandatory minicamp and looks to join the cornerback room during training camp.
Height: 6’ 1”
College: Ohio State
Hometown: Voorhees Township, New Jersey
Experience: sixth year
Apple signed a one-year, $1.2 million free-agent contract with the Bengals in March of 2021. Per Spotrac, he will earn a salary of $1 million and a roster bonus of $111,765 while carrying a cap hit north of $1.1 million.
Apple was a five-star prospect coming out of high school and ESPN’s eleventh best prospect overall. He chose to play for Ohio State, where he defended 17 passes, had 7.5 tackles for a loss, and four interceptions in two years. He played in the 2015 College Football Playoff National Championship and was the team’s MVP for that season. A few months later, Apple was drafted 10th overall in the 2016 NFL Draft by the New York Giants.
The corner’s NFL career got off to a solid start as he played a major role in a strong 2016 Giants secondary that earned the nickname “NYPD” (New York Pass Defense) and helped the team go 11-5. Apple played in 14 games and started 11 as a rookie, made 51 total tackles, four tackles for loss, recovered two fumbles, defended seven passes, and grabbed his first interception off of Ben Roethlisberger in a 24-14 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Eli Apple just chose a clutch time to make his first career interception. pic.twitter.com/BNTlMn5mxR— Kevin Harrish (@Kevinish) December 4, 2016
Unfortunately, every thing began to go south in year two for Apple. He started the season as a starter but began struggling and was made a “healthy scratch” for four weeks.
While sitting out a Week 14 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, Apple was disciplined for tweeting live from the sidelines during the game and saying his former Ohio State teammate and Cowboy running back Rod Smith “iced” the Giants. He would make a season-high 9 tackles the following week in a backup role against the Eagles but was soon suspended by the Giants after teammate Landon Collins called him a “cancer” and getting into an argument with the coaching staff after being asked to practice with the scout team.
In 2017, Apple ended up playing in 11 games, making seven starts in which he defended eight passes, making 49 tackles, and recovering two fumbles as the team fell to 3-13.
In 2018, Pat Shurmur was hired to be the head coach, and Apple was once again made a starter during the preseason. Then he left New York’s Week 2 loss to Dallas with a groin injury. After missing two weeks and playing a Thursday night game against the Eagles Week 6, the Giants traded Apple to the New Orleans Saints for a fourth and seventh-round draft pick. He’d go on to start 10 games for the Saints in which he recorded 52 total tackles, defended nine passes, and grabbed two interceptions.
Before the 2019 season, the Saints declined Apple’s fifth-year option. He would go on to start 15 games, make 58 tackles total, defend four passes, and force a fumble.
After a free-agent deal with the Las Vegas Raiders fell through, Apple joined the Carolina Panthers before the 2020 season but appeared in just two games, was placed on injured reserve and then cut in late October by the team. In those two games, he made just four total tackles and did not defend a pass.
2021 Outlook/Roster Odds
There is absolutely no guarantee Apple makes the Bengals 53-man roster when the team breaks camp.
Cornerbacks Trae Waynes, Mike Hilton and Chidobe Awuzie are all surely ahead of Apple on the depth chart, which will likely put him in a competition with Darius Phillips, Jalen Davis, Tony Brown, and Winston Rose for a backup/special teams role.
However, given Apple’s experience and brief history with Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo, who served as Apple’s defensive backs coach in New York, there’s a chance that - if healthy - he will have a leg up in the pursuit of a backup spot.
None of the other guys behind the three starters have a firm hold on a spot. Phillips made 38 total tackles and grabbed a pick last season, Davis played in just six games. Brown played in 13 games, made three starts and forced two fumbles. And Rose spent 2020 on and off the practice squad.
Thus, if the Bengals keep the usual five to six corners, Apple should be in pretty good position to land a backup role. However, if he struggles in camp, preseason games, or suffers an injury, he’ll likely be a cap casualty.
Roster Odds: 60%