Eli Apple could revive his career with a switch to safety
Eli Apple is once again, a free agent. The 24-year-old had a contract agreement with the Las Vegas Raiders that fell through at the eleventh hour according to a tweet from Adam Schefter.
Apple would be a significant boost to Carolina’s floundering secondary, which has lost both James Bradberry and Ross Cockrell to free agency. Apple would be a project player, with more of his value based on his physical tools than coverage ability. However, Apple should not play corner for the Panthers. Eli Apple is a very physical player, one who excels in run support rather than coverage. According to Pro Football Focus advanced stats, Apple missed only four tackles, tied for the fourth-fewest in the league amongst players who have played 80 percent or more of their team’s defensive snaps.
Apple’s time as a corner has been an abject failure. During his four seasons in the NFL, he as allowed on average; 48 catches for 637 yards and four touchdowns. These are terrible numbers. However, he still provides value in a potential switch to safety. His athletic potential is off the chart, standing six-foot-one, 200 pounds, he has plenty of speed, posting a four-four time in the forty – yard dash along with thirteen reps on the bench.
His athleticism, coupled with his physical play style, could lead to a career revival with the Panthers, who already have starters Tre Boston and Donte Jackson in place. The potential addition of Apple at the other safety spot, coupled with a shot to add the top corner in the draft, Jeff Okudah, could establish the Panthers secondary for the next three to five years.
He will have competition and mentorship
Eli Apple would not be the only safety addition for the Panthers for 2020. Former Browns and Jets safety Juston Burris signed with the team in free agency. Burris is a reliable depth option, but he lacks the skills to be a consistent starter in the NFL. Apple is the much more consistent run defender, having only missed one less tackle than Burris. However, Burris only played 409 snaps to Apple’s 946, only 43 percent of Apple’s snap count.
Burris is no stranger to the position change being proposed, starting his career in the NFL as a corner and making the transition to safety. Playing alongside Burris could provide invaluable insight into his new position and speed up the learning curve. Also, taking Apple under his wing would be safety Tre Boston. Boston has been one of the most underrated safeties in the NFL for a few seasons now and is currently the oldest tenured Panther and by far the one with the most starting experience.
Between the two players able to mentor him and help him adjust to the position change, this transition could be a slow one, with Apple playing a support role to start with and slowly acclimating to his new position over time. This is the kind of project that could pay off in a big way for the Panthers and is certainly worth the gamble.
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