CINNCINATI – It was pretty clear what the Bengals needed to do heading into the draft. However, not many expected all but one of their picks to be on the defensive side of things.
Three of those five defenders were defensive backs: two safeties and one corner. One of the safeties, first-round pick Dax Hill, has the ability to switch off and play the nickel/slot at times, which is very valuable. The Bengals also took cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt with their second-round pick, showing they’re not just looking to invest in the secondary, but upgrade it, as well.
This is not good news for Eli Apple, the Bengals’ No. 2 outside cornerback and starter opposite No. 1 cornerback Chidobe Awuzie.
Apple easily had the best year of his career, but that’s not saying a whole lot when you take his overall body of work to account. There are still plenty questions surrounding him entering 2022 – the main one being can he stay consistent moving forward.
This why the Bengals re-signed him to a one-year, prove-it deal worth around $3.5 million. It’s in case the old Apple shows up and plays like he did in the previous years of his career.
It’s also a big reason why the Bengals decided to draft Taylor-Britt. The former Nebraska Cornhusker not only provides injury depth, but he’ll also push Apple and even No. 4 corner Tre Flowers in camp.
If Apple starts to regress and the coaching staff likes what they see out of Taylor-Britt enough to put him on the field, they’ll do it.
Apple’s one-year deal also works against him in the idea that he’s not guaranteed to return even if he has a great season. Let’s say he balls out and is one 2022’s top corners. Well, he’s going to want to get paid, right? Tee Higgins and Joe Burrow will both be eligible for contract extensions in 2023 and Ja’Marr Chase is right behind them in 2024. The Bengals could easily opt to save their money and pay them and let second-round draft pick Taylor-Britt take over for Apple.
And to top everything off, Hill’s versatility also works against Apple. Let’s say Apple isn’t playing well and the coaching staff decides to start playing Taylor-Britt more. And let’s say Hill has impressed them and has shown he can play nickel at a high level. Well, if the Bengals are playing a team with two really good tight ends, let’s say, the Patriots, then they could keep Taylor-Britt and Awuzie outside and deploy a “big nickel” or even “big dime” personnel grouping, allowing Mike Hilton/and or Hill to take the other matchups along with Jessie Bates III and Von Bell.
That’s just one example. There are other scenarios in which Apple could get phased out if he isn’t playing well. It may seem unfair that Apple is facing this in 2022, but that’s the nature of the NFL. It’s a “what have you done for me lately” league at its core.
Apple’s running mates in Awuzie and Hilton aren’t under the immediate pressure to succeed like he is, either. For starters, they’ve both been much better throughout their careers and Awuzie is under contract through 2023. Hilton is under contract through 2024.
All of these circumstances make it easy to see why Apple is the biggest loser of the Bengals draft. But the NFL is all about proving yourself and overcoming obstacles. This could be what Apple needs to officially get his career back on track.
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