Ohio State University has seen a mass exodus of underclassmen since the season has ended. In fact, they lead the entire nation in declared underclassmen with nine, among them are the likes of star defenders Joey Bosa and Darren Lee.
But in the same company of Bosa and Lee in the sense that he is a multi-year starter on some extremely successful Ohio State teams is cornerback Eli Apple.
Apple has caught the attention of several in the big draft media. He is highly touted by Mike Mayock, Daniel Jeremiah, and more and is projected by many to potentially become a first round pick. The praise that Apple has garnered has predictably led to a fair amount of criticism, too.
Takes on NFL Draft prospects kind of act like a pendulum. When people see that the opinion of one player begins to swing too far one way they try to balance it out by acting out on the other end of the spectrum. In Apple's case, many have pointed to his disappointing 2015 campaign compared to his 2014 season as a redshirt freshman. So where on the pendulum does Apple really land?
With the Mayock's as a first round pick or with the contrarians who depict him as being overrated due to size and school?
2014 vs. 2015
As with a few prospects, we have written about this offseason, Apple's college career can be viewed at from one of two perspectives. In 2014, Apple was a redshirt freshman who started for Ohio State's eventual championship defense. He put up modest stats overall. But all in all, it was impressive for a 19-year-old in his first year playing college football to record three interceptions and 10 pass breakups for the national champions.
Apple would follow the same trend as many of his teammates and ultimately the Ohio State team in 2015. His play was not bad, but it was wildly inconsistent. His production would eventually take a small dip, and he finished the 2015 season with one interception and seven pass breakups. You could see at times he was either pressing or simply not focused enough.
For a 20-year-old coming off a championship season, though, this should not be condemned. Apple declared as a redshirt sophomore, something not many prospects do, so it should be clear by now that his intentions throughout the entire season were likely to declare for the NFL once the season ended.
Add on all of these factors and Apple's inconsistent 2015 season makes more sense than simply saying he just isn't good.
In need of the right home
The things Apple does well and the things he struggles with are pretty clear when you watch him. He is a prototype H/W/S type. He stands at over 6'0", over 200 lbs, has tree limbs for arms, and can turn and run with anybody. He was also a 4-star recruit and started almost 30 games for a championship winning team.
On the flip side, Apple also has clear holes in his game. He doesn't always play with great focus or situational awareness. For a player who is as young as he is (he'll just have turned 21 before his first NFL game) it is understandable for Apple to have these issues. It is also understandable to expect him to need some time to sit and learn and not be thrown to the wolves right away.
But at cornerback, athleticism and playing with an "alpha dog" mentality can make or break most players. With all of the technical or mental issues that Apple might currently possess, there is no denying that he is an athletic marvel or that he plays with some "dog" in him.
He has displayed the tendency to play with a swagger and aggressiveness that can help the rough transition to the NFL that he may face.
The middle is ultimately where Apple's draft pendulum should land. He has a decorated resume, all the tools you want in a cornerback, and confidence that can help carry him throughout his career. But he also has suffered through up and down play and did not always play up to his competition.
All the things people say about Apple are ultimately true, which is what makes him such a compelling prospect. No matter which side of the Apple pendulum that you stand on, you have enough evidence to make a strong case. This is why the coaching staff Apple is placed with is so important. We see toolsy cornerbacks thrown to the wolves right from the jump and not develop over their careers.
Frankly, it would not be a shock to see Apple end up like Dwayne Gratz in this regard.
But with the right structure around him, Apple could also tap into his natural talent and eventually settle down and display more consistency than he showed at Ohio State. Apple being able to develop into a playmaking corner who has the tools to excel against downfield passing games is something that is also easily foreseeable. Apple could end up like Davon House.
Apple is a great example for why a predraft pendulum may settle in one area for a short time but why the players landing spot will ultimately determine the correct final landing spot. Be it with the Mayocks, the middle, or the pundits.