For the Steelers, improving the secondary ranks high on the team’s list of priorities this off-season.
Whether the help comes in free agents or the draft, the front office must repair a mangled pass defense that ranked amongst the worst in football. Guys like Jalen Ramsey, Vernon Hargreaves and Mackensie Alexander are listed as the top three corners in this draft with each possessing tremendous upside.
Unfortunately, these prospects are projected to be long gone when the Steelers pick at 25. One guy that could be available for the Black & Gold late in the first round is Ohio State cornerback Eli Apple.
The Steelers are no stranger to picking Buckeyes in the draft. In five of the last six drafts, the Steelers have selected at least one player from Ohio State including twice in the first round. They selected Ryan Shazier with the 15th pick in 2014 and Cam Heyward with the 31st pick in 2011. Ten years ago, Super Bowl 43 MVP Santonio Holmes was selected with the 25th pick after the Steelers traded up.
If the Steelers select Apple, it would be the second straight season the team has drafted a cornerback out of Columbus. Doran Grant was picked in the fourth round, but failed to record a single snap in 2015. Grant was one of two cornerbacks selected by the Steelers last year. Senquez Golson, who was drafted in the second round out of Ole Miss, missed the entire season after getting injured in Training Camp.
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Apple possesses the ideal size scouts look for in a corner, standing 6’1 and weighing 200 lbs. His arm length and quick footwork allows him to be aggressive in coverage. Once the balls in the air, Apple gets extremely competitive with the opposing receiver. Over his two years with the Buckeyes, he was able to snatch 4 interceptions while breaking up 17 passes.
His aggressive nature not only shows up in pass coverage, but in the run game as well. Apple is not afraid to throw his body around and take on run blocks. He amassed over 86 tackles and 7.5 tackles for loss in his two years with the Buckeyes. This aggressive style does cause Apple to not wrap up when he tackles. To last in the NFL, he must become a sound tackler.
Like many playmakers from Ohio State, some of Apple’s best games have been on the national stage. It was his interception of Marcus Mariota that sealed the Buckeye’s national title win. In their 44-28 beat down of Notre Dame, Apple earned defensive player of the game. This season he was named second team all-conference in the Big Ten.
Many draft experts have projected Apple to be selected by the Steelers in the first round. He would be a tremendous upgrade in the leaky secondary of the Black & Gold. We will find out over the next few months how interested the Steelers are in Apple.