The 2016 draft class is rife with talent, particularly at safety and corner. Teams looking to fortify their secondary should have plenty of attractive candidates to choose from. Florida State cornerback Jalen Ramsey, Clemson cornerback Mackenie Alexander, and Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III will likely be off the board by the time the Steelers take the 25th overall pick.
Cornerback Eli Apple of Ohio State will likely be available and could be a good fit for the Steelers, if they opt to draft a defensive back. In addition to his personal qualities, he hails from the same school as Will Allen, Cameron Heyward and Ryan Shazier. Doran Grant, who didn't see much playing time this year, is also a Buckeye. Steelers seem to like OSU players. They have more players representing OSU on their roster than any other team.
Do the Steelers even need a cornerback? Last year, the Steelers chose Senquez Golson in the second round, a promising, ninja-like corner whose vertical jump and overall athleticism excited scouts and fans. Unfortunately, Golson never saw playing time, injured before the start of the season. Golson has lost a year of preparation and experience, and is a wild card.
Apple is 6-foot 1-inch and weighs 200-pounds. Golson was heavily criticized for his small stature as many teams have moved towards drafting taller defensive backs who are more evenly matched against increasingly tall, powerful wide receivers. While there are definite advantages to smaller cornerbacks, including increased agility and ninjaosity, there is something to be said for added height.
While the Seattle Seahawks secondary did not have their best season, they have excelled in the past. Richard Sherman stands a towering 6-foot 3-inches, for example. The Jets formidable secondary featured six cornerbacks over 6'0" going into the 2015 season. The eight cornerbacks on the Panthers roster in August were all over 6-feet tall.
Apple's height does not compromise his agility, speed, or playmaking ability. Added inches give him an edge when defending receivers. In his highlight video, his athleticism and ball-hawking skills are evident. CBS scouts referenced his "my ball" mentality, something sorely lacking in the Steelers secondary in recent seasons. Though some scouts have criticized his tackling, Apple does appear to have strong fundamentals, wrapping up and bringing down his opponent instead of throwing his shoulder at the ball carrier.
Most of Apple's weaknesses are due to inexperience and youth. If the Steelers can find a defensive backs coach who can transform the secondary the way Mike Munchak has transformed the offensive line, Apple has the raw material to be a strong contributor to the Steelers cause.
I can almost hear Jon Gruden's corny comments now: "How do you like them Apples?"