Panthers' cornerback Eli Apple turned 25 on Sunday, but even that didn't keep him from feeling like an elder on the Panthers' defense.
After selecting seven defensive players in the 2020 NFL draft, the Panthers have one of the youngest defenses in the NFL. Only six defensive players on the Panthers' roster have been in the league longer than Apple.
"It's crazy," Apple said when asked about the team's youth.
And as one of the veterans, Apple will be a crucial part of a defense trying to find its identity after the departure of many notable players, including Luke Kuechly, Eric Reid, Mario Addison and James Bradberry. He'll likely start opposite of third-year cornerback Donte Jackson.
"Eli is very technique oriented," Jackson said last week. "He's a very smart player. He's seen a lot in this league so he has a clear understanding of what can happen and what time."
Apple was highly regarded coming out of Ohio State in 2016. He was the 10th overall pick by the Giants in the 2016 NFL draft. But his career path hasn't been smooth, playing for his third team in five years.
In 2017, Apple was suspended for a game after arguing with a coach. His then-Giants' teammate, Landon Collins, referred to Apple as a "cancer."
Apple was traded to the Saints midway through the 2018 season, where he became a starter and played well.
But he struggled in 2019, his final season with the Saints. While he only surrendered two touchdowns, opposing quarterbacks completed 63.2% of their passes and had a 100.9 passer rating when targeting Apple, according to Pro-Football Reference.
He finally signed with the Panthers this offseason after a deal with the Las Vegas Raiders fell through.