How Raiders expect Eli Apple to fit in defensive backfield

Scott Bair
NBC Sports BayArea

The Raiders were determined to get cornerback help in NFL free agency. They set a massive salary in front of Byron Jones, but the top cover man available took employment from Miami instead.

They went after Chris Harris Jr. after declaring interest early, and reportedly dangled a three-year deal in front of the 31-year old former Denver Bronco. He didn't want it, choosing the Chargers instead.

Coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock were undeterred.

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The Silver and Black shifted focus to Eli Apple, and quickly locked him up Wednesday.

Apple agreed on terms of a contract to join the Raiders, a source told NBC Sports California, adding to what has been a solid free-agent haul to this point.

The Raiders were looking for a veteran to start opposite Trayvon Mullen, who established himself as a quality NFL cornerback during a strong rookie season.

Apple will compete to be that guy.

The Athletic's Vic Tafur also reports that the Raiders are looking into a possible trade for Darius Slay, the longtime Lions standout cornerback. He would be a lockdown No. 1 the Raiders currently don't have and that Apple has never been. 

The Raiders remain high on 2019 fourth-round pick Isaiah Johnson, but this will allow the University of Houston product to develop without the pressure of having to play right away. Johnson lost most of his rookie after suffering a concussion and a facial fracture in the Raiders' first preseason game.

Apple's the athletic, talented commodity Gruden was looking for, with the size and length required to play the physical coverage style required in Paul Guenther's defensive scheme.

The New York Giants selected Apple No. 10 overall in the 2016 NFL Draft and traded him to New Orleans during the 2018 campaign. He had some issues with the Giants in 2017 and was suspended for that season's finale due to conduct detrimental to the team. He was traded the following year and fared well in New Orleans, but the Saints declined his fifth-year option.

That's why the 24-year old became an unrestricted free agent this offseason, before binding himself to the Raiders.

Apple should enter the offseason and training camp as a presumptive starter, though he'll be pushed by younger players during that time.

Nevin Lawson's also in the mix here, though he's smaller than a prototypical Raiders cornerback. Lawson has 59 starts to his credit in six NFL seasons, and was a reliable backup when called upon last season.

Apple is a talented athlete who has been inconsistent. He has allowed 13.2 yards per reception and a 60.7 completion percentage when targeted in his four-year professional career, with a 99.9 passer rating against him. Apple has three career interception but didn't have one last year. The Raiders are certainly hoping he can fit in well with the team and thrive in their scheme. Apple has all the physical gifts to be a standout corner, and he'll have a fresh start to realize solid potential in Las Vegas.

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Apple is the seventh free agent to agree on terms with the Raiders and the sixth defender. Gruden and Mayock are providing Guenther with some veteran assistance, though all of his new assets are 28 or younger. They should meld well with a unit that's both young and fast and vastly improved on paper over last year's group.

Also, the Apple addition likely signals the end of Daryl Worley's tenure with the team, but time will tell on that front. The Raiders liked his toughness and versatility but had always planned to let him test the open market. It seems like he'll find another team to join later in free agency.

How Raiders expect Eli Apple to fit in defensive backfield originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

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