When the New Orleans Saints traded for former New York Giants cornerback Eli Apple last October, not everyone was convinced that the former Ohio State University All-American would be able to get his then-struggling young NFL career back on track. The Black and Gold gave up a 4th Round draft pick to acquire the 23-year old to replace Ken Crawley as the other outside boundary CB opposite of his former college teammate and 2017 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Marshon Lattimore.
But as the weeks went by, it became evident that being reunited with several of his former college teammates served as the primary inspiration for Apple to regain the form that made him one of the nation’s premier “shut down” CBs.
And maybe Eli Apple gets comfortable with former Ohio State teammates Marshon Lattimore and Vonn Bell on the roster. Kurt Coleman and Michael Thomas also former Ohio Staters.
— Larry Holder (@LarryHolder) October 23, 2018
Apple started 27 games for Ohio State from 2014-15. During his time in Columbus, he finished his college career with 86 tackles, four interceptions and 22 passes defended. He was a college teammate of four current Saints at Ohio State: cornerback Lattimore, safety Vonn Bell, All-Pro superstar wide receiver Michael Thomas, and 4th string back-up QB J.T. Barret; veteran wide receiver Ted Ginn, Jr. is also a fellow graduate of the school.
Despite some early issues (particularly with a handful of missed tackles), Apple quickly adapted to the Saints’ defensive scheme, playing in 10 total games. It was his critical end zone interception in the first Carolina game likely saved the win for New Orleans.
— SNF on NBC (@SNFonNBC) December 18, 2018
ELI APPLE’S 2018 STATS
52 combined tackles
9 pass breakups
29 interception return yards
1 fumble recovery
However, Apple’s notable improvement still wasn’t good enough to earn him himself a commitment from the Saints organization to pick up his fifth-year contract option during the current off-season. Nevertheless, the 23-year old Philadelphia native told New Orleans Advocate beat writer Rod Walker that he wasn’t overly concerned by the move and that he actually plans to utilize it instead as a source of personal self-motivation and inspiration once the 2019 NFL Season arrives.
— Julie Boudwin (@Julie_Boudwin) November 11, 2018
“Nah, I try not to think about it too much,” Apple told Walker. “It is what it is. I just have to go out and get it this year and prove myself and continue to prove what I can do on the field. Everything is going to take care of itself.”
With the Saints’ team brass taking a wait-and-see approach to Apple, wanting to see how he performs before extending any type of new offer, it also means that Apple is set to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2019 season. “I think I did well, especially when I hit my stride,” Apple said. “Once I got real comfortable, I definitely did my thing on defense, especially playing man. Just being comfortable. That’s the most important thing.”
As of now, Apple continues to play on the original rookie deal that he signed with the Giants following the 2016 NFL Draft. His 2019 cap hit for this final season of his contract is a little bit over $2.5 million.
Lattimore, meanwhile, had another quality showing in his second NFL campaign going up against the primary receiver on opposing teams once again. His performance in the Giants game in Week #4 stood out – in particular recovering a fumble and locking down then-New York All-Pro (and now current Cleveland Browns WR) Odell Beckham. Jr.
— Wilton Jackson II (@WiltonReports) October 1, 2018
MARSHON LATTIMORE’S 2018 STATS
59 combined tackles
12 pass breakups
100 INT return yards
1 forced fumble
Those numbers aside, Lattimore actually suffered a bit of a “sophomore slump” during his 2nd NFL season, but he was eventually able to bounce back and put together a solid season; and often was assigned to cover the opposing team’s very best wide receiver with the ultimate goal of rendering them ineffective and shutting them down completely.
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) January 13, 2019
Lattimore will be playing in his 3rd NFL season this year, and for right now is playing on his original rookie deal which still has two years remaining. There’s been no discussion yet on any possible new contract – one that could potentially make the 24-year old Lattimore one of the highest paid starting #1 cornerbacks of all-time. But as is the case with Apple, the Saints want to still see more from him before making any long-term financial investment.
At least, that seemed to be the case given the comments made by Saints head coach Sean Payton after the team’s final OTA Practice Tuesday afternoon.
QUESTION: After the two strong years to start his career, what would you kind of want to see out of Marshon Lattimore going into year three?
(Payton): “There’s so much at that position. There’s a lot put on him oftentimes, with a match on the certain receiver. the overall technique in, in the things that he’s pretty demanding of himself. So he’s competitive. I think that it begins to, it never slows down, but it begins to become a little clearer for those guys. Especially as it pertains to the splits, the formations they’re getting, route combinations.”
“If you’re a corner and you’re defending every route each play, you are going to struggle. You have to understand where the split is and then what routes are going to come with those splits. But I think he is a real smart player. So I think you’re seeing those things just take place with the repetitions.”
As it turns out, Saints brass could be faced with the prospect of having to shell out some big bucks to ensure keeping them both in due time, especially given how good they’ve looked this far in the off-season during the recently-completed OTA’s.
Both players stood out separately and together multiple times, and it’s become evident that they still share chemistry with each other dating back to their two years together as the starting CBs for Ohio State’s defensive unit during the 2014 and 2015 college football seasons.
— Ohio St. Buckeye Fan (@BucknutsFan) March 24, 2017
It’s the same chemistry that both the Saints organization and Who Dat fans everywhere are hoping will give defensive coordinator Dennis Allen and the team’s much-improved secondary one of the premier outside boundary/top cover CB tandems in the entire NFL.
With Lattimore and Apple back together once again, and both performing at a high level, the Black and Gold secondary will be looking to lock down some of the NFL’s premier wide receivers over the course of the next few months, in what they hope will culminate with winning another Super Bowl title in the city of Miami (where New Orleans won their one and only other Super Bowl title 10 years ago) next February.
That type of skill and capability that both players possess is commonly referred to in the sports world as “blanket coverage” — and it likely will determine the success (or failure) the Saints will ultimately experience in the upcoming 2019 NFL Season.
Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium. He is the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryHirstius