The Saints are fed up. They didn’t wait until last hours of trade deadline to shuffle their coverage rotation, trading for Eli Apple and starting him right away. The dust has quickly settled, but this question is still up in the discussion – is Eli the solution?
One of the most apparent flaws in last year’s rebuilt defense was the play of CB#2 and nickel corner. Ken Crawley, though recorded a very solid year, was often exposed by opposing offenses, which targeted his side of the field hoping for big plays or flags. This led to some kind of a lottery for the team. By no means he a was a bad corner – he was solid, yet the possible upgrade was still an option.
But this was 2017. Current season is a complete turnaround, with secondary vastly regressing in their play. Marshon Lattimore dropped a few notes, when Ken Crawley has fallen of the cliff so much, that he was benched. Add to this the lose of Patrick Robinson to ankle injury and you have the Saints, once again, in a famine, desperately seeking cornerback help.
This leads us to Apple’s trade, trade that enduced, at first, disillusionment in the fanbase. Fanbase so mesmerized with the possibility to acquire Patrick Peterson, that they didn’t even considered these smaller moves. Do not lie – it was a star player or bust, right? Pat Pete, Chris Harris, Ronald Darby, doesn’t matter. Therefore, Apple’s name was not exactly world-changing. All he was recognized for were the dramas in the locker room and being suspended by Ben McAdoo. But then the first film studies came. Then came the opinions from Big Apple. How Eli matured during off-season. How he stood out during training camp. How he started to play solidly during season. And maybe this will be all the Saints really need?
I won’t delve here into another film study. The good work has been done, just watch Deuce’s or Nick’s one. Consensus is, while Eli is not a lockdown corner and has his flaws, he still presents an upgrade over Ken or PJ at this boundary position. Saints acquired athletic and long corner, who fits very well in DA’s zone & press schemes, as well as having the wheels go keep up with receiver in man-to-man calls. But the most important part is that Eli is really steadly progressing and maturing, which shows in his play – he does not make as many mistakes as the Saints are making this year. Also, Eli’s recovery skills are just better than Crawley’s, though argument can be made how Ken is a better playmaker on the ball. It is also worth mentioning that Eli has better grades this season than every single Saints cornerback. If he keeps his pace at this level, it won’t be naive to think that the Saints are happy. That’s all they really need.
With all that being said, the only thing that matters would be how quick Eli can play. But the Saints think he can start right now, after just few training sessions. There’s no denying how important for the secondary is chemistry between it’s counterparts, but it’s also worth noting that Eli will play with two players, with whom he trained and played at Ohio State. Old [friendship & chemistry] is gold, isn’t it? It may be softly far-fetched, but this little tidbit may immensely alleviate Eli’s transition to this defense and team.
Will Eli be the solution? Who knows. But we’re still talking about 23 year old cornerback, that has made regular strides in his development. Cornerback, that the Saints have for at least two, or if they desire, three next years. And they didn’t sacrifice the future for him, sending merely 4th and 7th rounders. There’s a very little chance of getting more from this picks than Eli. So Saints gave virtually nothing for a potential multi-year starter. Because there’s no risk. There’s just a reward, yet we don’t know how big or underwhelming. And once again, let’s reiterate, they did not sacrifice the future – now, Eli Apple is the future. Future which does not surrender premium picks or cap space. Future, which is not even shortened.
And whether this will be a good future, we’ll get to know slowly but surely in imminent future. We’ll start in Minnesota.