Eli Apple slowly undid five years of disappointment in his first season with the Cincinnati Bengals last year. He emerged as a competent CB2 who makes the occasional big play. And that’s enough to keep him in the starting lineup for now.
Sports Illustrated’s Mike Santagata joined the “#1 Bengals Podcast” to talk about Apple, and he is sold on the sustainability of the success he had last year. You can watch the entire analysis below:
We all know about the corner’s huge tipped pass that resulted in a Logan Wilson interception late in a AFC Divisional Round win over the Tennessee Titans.
We also know that he stopped Tyreek Hill at the goal line late in the first half of the AFC Championship Game against the Kansas City Chiefs, a play that many believe shifted the momentum of the game.
Eli Apple: Gives up pass interference to set the Chiefs up at the one-yard line.— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) January 30, 2022
Also Eli Apple: Tackles Tyreek Hill in bounds to preserve the 11-point halftime deficit for the Bengals.
But Santagata chose to highlight other plays that displayed Apple’s growth in terms of anticipation, physicality, and intelligence. He selected the following four clips:
- Right before Vonn Bell picked off Patrick Mahomes in the AFCG, Apple almost came up with a game-winning pick-six. The reason he was in that position was that he had studied Mahomes throw the same concept snag in the film room. “He knows Mahomes wants that little sit route,” Santagata said. “So he sits on the sit route, Mahomes fires it over there, and we almost had an Eli Apple pick-six to end the AFC Championship Game.”
Eli Apple almost broke the internet with a game sealing pick 6 in overtime. pic.twitter.com/AQ8DiB4Gnn— Mike (@bengals_sans) February 1, 2022
2. To demonstrate that the dropped interception was not indicative of Apple’s overall catching ability, Santagata then shared a clip from a Week 11 win over the Las Vegas Raiders, when the former Ohio State Buckeye sinks underneath a corner route to pick off quarterback Derek Carr with under five minutes remaining in the game and the Bengals clinging to a nine-point lead.
Eli Apple is playing fantastic cover 2 technique here. His man goes underneath, so he drops and gains depth to take away any out-breaking routes. Gets right underneath of the corner route by Waller to pick this ball off. pic.twitter.com/Qqf7MbyEAm— Mike (@bengals_sans) November 24, 2021
3. Then the analyst shared a clip from the Bengals’ primetime win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 4, when Apple displayed his intelligence, flying in for a tipped pass at the last moment. “He now looks like a smart, heady corner who puts himself in the right place,” Santagata said.
Bengals get into a double mug pressure look and then drop back into cover 3. Lawrence still tries to take the shot to Shenault, but Eli Apple does a good job to get over the top and break it up. pic.twitter.com/0N0E0dqX3l— Mike (@bengals_sans) October 4, 2021
4. Finally, Santagata noted that Apple “bullied” Chase Claypool, who stands 6’ 4” and is 238 pounds, in Week 12. “Chase Claypool tries to run a go route to the outside, and Eli Apple puts a hand on him and pushes him to the ground, and the ball just sails beyond him,” he said.
Eli Apple sticking with Chase Claypool in man coverage. Not sure if Claypool trips or what, but that wasn't much contact. pic.twitter.com/5bcOdhs0ua— Mike (@bengals_sans) November 30, 2021
In closing, the analyst said that Apple is smart, tough, and that he played quality football in 2021-22. “I trust that he’s going to be a solid corner again this season, which is why they weren’t reaching for [a cornerback] at the end of the first round,” he said. When asked about whether Apple would start over rookie Cam Taylor-Britt, Santagata said:
I think [he starts over Taylor-Britt]. I think the coaching staff likes him a lot more than the fans do. I think defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo and all those guys see a solid, starting-level corner, and you’re not sure if a late second round rookie is going to give that to you, even if that guy has more potential.
You can also listen to the analysis on iTunes or using the player below:
Weight: 199 pounds
College: Ohio State
Hometown: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Experience: seventh season
He signed a one year, $3.75 million deal with the Bengals this offseason. His base salary is $1.9 million and his roster bonus is $500,000.
Apple was an outstanding prospect coming out of high school, the eleventh best in the nation, according to ESPN. Then, in just his second season at Ohio State, he was named the team’s defensive MVP. Apple finished his college career with 17 passes defended and 7.5 tackles for a loss, demonstrating his ability as both a playmaker and tackler. He was drafted tenth overall by the New York Giants, but never lived up to his billing in the 2016 NFL Draft. In 2018, Apple was traded to the New Orleans Saints, who declined his fifth-year option after the season. The Carolina Panthers picked him up in 2020, but he was cut by October after an injury-plagued year. Finally, the Bengals gave him a shot at redemption in a return to Ohio last offseason, and, as noted above, it paid off handsomely for both parties.
There is no doubt that Apple will have every chance to cement his place in the starting lineup for now. He is a veteran with high upside, and, while he may be a bit of a braggart off the field, he completely fits the culture that Zac Taylor and Anarumo have established.
90%. If, for some reason, Apple regresses to his pre-Bengals days, and Taylor-Britt looks amazing in camp, the team could release the veteran with only a $1 million dead cap hit. That scenario, though, is highly unlikely considering Taylor-Britt’s inexperience, Cincinnati’s championship aspirations, and the Brown/Blackburn approach to business.
What is your impression of Eli Apple?
This poll is closed
He finally found his footing in NFL, will continue to improve
He had one good year, will regress to the mean
He can be successful in Anarumo’s system but not elsewhere