If there was one element to the Ohio State Buckeyes that was lacking in 2012, it was the secondary. Thankfully, four-star recruit Eli Apple will provide an immediate upgrade to a pass defense that ranked 76th nationally this past season, per NCAA.com.
According to 247Sports.com's composite rankings, Apple is the 45th-ranked recruit in the country and the fifth-best cornerback prospect. Hailing from Voorhees, N.J.'s Eastern High School, there is plenty of upside for the talented Apple.
Fellow classmate Cameron Burrows has the ability to play safety and corner, but Apple has the best chance of making an immediate impact.
At 6'1" and 185 pounds, Apple still has plenty of room to fill out his promising, strong frame. He will give receivers a lot of trouble getting off jams at the line of scrimmage even in his freshman year at OSU.
Not only does Apple possess uncanny instincts and understanding of route concepts to play lockdown man coverage, but he is also very good in zone coverage.
The Buckeyes could use him in the nickel package at the very least to press speedy but undersized slot receivers to disrupt rhythm on key possession passing situations.
The fact that Apple is already enrolled at Ohio State a semester early means he'll get a head start on the playbook and get to establish himself in spring practice (h/t OhioStateBuckeyes.com).
O-Zone columnist Michael Chung seems sold on the promising prospect as well:
Dr. Michael Chung @ProfMChung
Eli Apple is very confident in person but also humble. I think he will have a great OSU career.2013-1-1 23:46:00
Although he only runs somewhere in the 4.6 range in the 40-yard dash, any inherent lack of speed is made up for what Apple brings to the table as far as football IQ is concerned.
Apple wastes no motion, and he is quick to diagnose plays properly. He displays the range to make plays from anywhere on the field and an outstanding knack for driving to the football once the ball is in the air.
That sort of recovery will translate well to the next level as Apple will likely have at least a bit of an adjustment period.
Another strength that Apple brings to the table is that he particularly thrives on one-on-one situations on the outside, which is precisely where the Buckeyes will need him. That also translates well to the red zone, as Apple is aggressive and attacks the ball.
Combine that with Apple's ample capability to step up and support the run, and Ohio State may very well be getting an early contributor in the defensive backfield in 2013.
Should the Buckeyes' offense continue to thrive under QB Braxton Miller and the defense improve against the pass, there's no reason to think that Urban Meyer's bunch won't be in the national championship picture.
Apple may not be getting a ton of hype now, but he has all the makings of being a key cog in getting the Buckeyes to the promised land of a BCS bowl game.