An Improved Eli Apple Would Make the Giants' Secondary Unstoppable
Dec 22, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; New York Giants cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (41) reacts with cornerback Eli Apple (24) after his interception during the first half against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

If second-year corner Eli Apple can improve on his 2016 campaign, the Giants’ secondary will be unstoppable this upcoming season. 

A rollercoaster that takes you backward and sideways would be the best way to describe Eli Apple’s rookie season.

Selected 10th overall by the Giants in the 2016 NFL draft, the Buckeye corner came to the Big Apple after just two years at Ohio State.

In the first half of the regular season, Apple looked a step slow. Allowing his cover to get behind him and at times get blown by, he wasn’t quite the presence the Giants had envisioned him being early on.

A big reason for those struggles was his health. Missing two of the Giants’ first eight games with a hamstring and groin injury, Apple was unable to garner any true consistency throughout the first two months of the season.

But after returning from injury, Apple was a more reliable product for Big Blue.

While not quite stellar, Apple stayed with his man and wasn’t taken advantage of as much after returning from injury — only boosting the Giants’ top 10 defense.

Finishing the year with a combined 51 tackles — which led all Giants’ cornerbacks — Apple ultimately played a role in the Giants NYPD (New York Pass Defense).

At the end of the day, Apple wasn’t an elite player in his rookie year, but he did show some promise in the second half of the regular season. Nevertheless, he will need to improve his consistency if he’s going to produce at a higher level in his sophomore year — which he appears willing and ready to do.

In fact, this offseason, Apple has been training with Titans top corner Logan Ryan — who thinks the world of Apple.

“He’s really young and to play at this level and cover the guys he covers, his potential is really scary. He knows that ” Ryan said. “He puts the work in to stay healthy and do everything. You have to understand people Eli’s age are juniors in college. The kid is really young, really talented for his age and he’s playing in a pressure situation and I think he’s handled it really well.”

In addition to Ryan’s praise, Apple feels his play, as well as the Giants’ defense as a whole, will only improve in 2017.

“I’m becoming more comfortable with the plays, more comfortable with my teammates and I think as a whole unit, especially on defense,” Apple said. “We’re going to be able to come together and do something special.”

When you pair an improved Apple with a secondary that consists of Pro-Bowl safety Landon Collins, as well as corners Janoris Jenkins and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the Giants have themselves an unstoppable secondary.

Collins, a runner-up for defensive player of the year behind Kahlil Mack and Von Miller, has established himself as one of the best safeties in the NFL. Finishing 2016 with four sacks and five interceptions, to go along with a team high 125.0 combined tackles, Collins was arguably the Giants’ most valuable man on the defensive end.

On the other hand, Jenkins and Rodgers-Cromartie form arguably the best cornerback duo in the NFL.

With Jenkins being the ball hawk that he is and Rodgers-Cromartie currently playing the best football of his career — recording a career high six interceptions in 2016, as well as being ranked the 3rd best playmaking corner in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus — the Giants’ secondary contains two of the game’s most lethal corners.

If you throw an improved and healthy Apple into the mix, the Giants’ secondary becomes even more dangerous after already being a formidable unit in 2016.

The question becomes, while Ryan thinks highly of him, will Apple ultimately take the next step and garner that consistency?

Robbie Stratakos is a New York Knicks/Giants Beat Writer for Elite Sports NY (ESNY); he also covers the NBA nationally. He previously wrote at Last Word On Pro Basketball and Empire Writes Back. In addition to writing for ESNY, Robbie is an MLB columnist at Baseball Essential. He previously wrote at HardBallScoop - part of Scout/CBS Interactive/247Sports, Last Word On Baseball and District On Deck. He is attending Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, New York. Follow him on twitter @RPStratakos