Stop me if you've heard this before...the Pittsburgh Steelers are going to select CB Eli Apple from Ohio State with their first round draft pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Yes, if you've followed the numerous mock drafts which have been released since the end of the 2015 NFL season, you have heard the name Eli Apple and Steelers linked together on more than one occasion. After all, it makes sense. The Steelers need a cornerback, and Apple is considered to be one of the better all-around prospects in this current crop of defensive backs.
However, is he really a good fit for the Steelers? He plays a very aggressive brand of football and was known for his physical attributes while at Ohio State in man-to-man coverage schemes. When looking at it from an in-depth position, you can see why the two might not be the best fit, in terms of scheme.
A recent ESPN Insider article suggested the same, and listed the Steelers and Apple were one of the 5 worst matches in the upcoming NFL Draft.
CB Eli Apple to the Pittsburgh Steelers
Pick: No. 25
This one has as much to do with the scheme as it does the player. Apple may be the best corner in the class when playing tight press-man coverage, even if he gets a little too physical at times. His strength in man coverage is a perfect fit for a number of teams -- the Kansas City Chiefs, New York Jets and Arizona Cardinals come to mind -- but Pittsburgh's zone-heavy system is not a good use of the former Ohio State star's talents. His struggles come when asked to play in space, and with Pittsburgh playing the most zone coverage in the league (more than 78 percent of snaps), Apple's weaknesses would be accentuated. Whether it's his blown coverages or his 19 missed tackles on only 90 attempts the past two years, Apple would not do his best work in a zone scheme. Pittsburgh is a bad fit.
The analysis is far from false, but I'm not sold on it being 100-percent accurate either. Apple is used to man coverage schemes as a member of the Buckeyes, but in no way does that mean he couldn't adapt to a zone scheme. For me, the one word surrounding Apple in all of this has been "raw". He doesn't have a ton of experience, and the experience he does have would lend itself to far better defensive schemes, but that would simply make him more of a project.
That is where I see him as a poor fit for the Steelers with the No. 25th overall pick. Apple would take time to grow into a role with the team, and that is something the Steelers can ill afford right now. With their first round pick, getting a player who can contribute in both special teams, and on the standard defense is paramount. It doesn't mean the individual has to be a starter from Day 1, but trying to find a player like Bud Dupree who is able to contribute to the cause is what should be expected.
This ultimately should be the team's goal in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Find a player who will be able to contribute to the 2016 Steelers push for a seventh Lombardi trophy. Whether that is a defensive lineman, safety, cornerback or edge rusher...the time is now for the Steelers, and hopefully their first round pick mirrors that sentiment on Thursday.