Fennelly: Rookies Apple, Shepard Contributing to Big Blue’s Success

The Giants, by virtue of their 6-10 finish in 2015, had the luxury of the 10th overall pick in this past April’s NFL Draft. After a few teams traded up ahead of them to poach several key pass rushers and offensive linemen, the Giants appeared to “settle” for Ohio State CB Eli Apple.

Apple was considered first-round talent but no one had mocked him as a top-10 pick. The Giants looked past that, believing Apple’s size (6’1”, 200) and physicality would pay off for them in the long run.

After a quick start, Apple was slowed by first a groin injury and then by his outspoken mother, who was openly critical of the team’s handling of the Josh Brown affair. Annie Apple, a victim of domestic violence, had published a scathing opinion of Giants’ management regarding their slow and uneven response to Brown’s actions.

The situation put the younger Apple in an awkward place. He had a horrible game against the Eagles, lining up out of place and missing assignments and tackles. He was benched halfway through the game. He insisted his mother’s actions had nothing to do with his poor play but it was obvious that they did.

The Giants weren’t about to let any grass grow under the situation. They put Apple right back out there the next week. With CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (back) not 100%, Apple played all 58 defensive snaps against the Bengals. This past week vs Chicago, Apple led the Giants’ defense with seven total tackles.

“It is going okay. I am learning a lot,” Apple said when asked how his rookie season was going. “I am still young in the game, so I still have a lot more to learn. I am looking forward to the six more games that we have left in the regular season. I am trying to get better every game.”

And that appears to be happening.

Shepard, who was considered by many to be the “steal of the draft” in the second round out of Oklahoma, has been a steady compliment to Odell Beckham, Jr. and Victor Cruz. He has 44 receptions for 476 yards and five TDs this season.

Against the Bears, with Beckham bottled up by Chicago defenders, Shepard saw 11 targets, hauling in five. One of those was for a wide-open touchdown, his third straight game with a score.

“Sterling is playing well,” said QB Eli Manning. “He’s just getting better on some routes and adding more to his arsenal of routes that he’s winning. He had a nice third down conversion on a crossing route. Obviously the touchdown. He had a double move and I think killed the guy. I think the guy was still running the shallow route thinking that’s what he’s running. He’s done a good job just understanding the offense, understanding the timing of certain routes, how to set up things. We’ve got to keep going with that.”

Those who are constantly doubting GM Jerry Reese and his choices, should no longer be doing so. Apple and Shepard are bringing it early and often in their Giant careers.

Reese has done well the past few drafts. Last year’s top pick, LT Ereck Flowers, who just turned 22, has played every snap this season. His second rounder, safety Landon Collins, is on his way to and All-Pro season.

The yea before that, Reese took WR Odell Beckham, Jr, and center Weston Richburg with his first two picks. Enough said. In 2013, he selected LG Justin Pugh and DT Johnathan Hankins. All four of those players are among the league’s best at their positions.




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