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NFL Draft: Giants’ picks Eli Apple, Sterling Shepard are proof league is changing

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 28: (L-R) Eli Apple

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 28: (L-R) Eli Apple of Ohio State holds up a jersey with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after being picked #10 overall by the New York Giants during the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University on April 28, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images) Photo Credit: Getty Images/ Jon Durr

The NFL is changing, and perhaps nothing says it as loudly as the Giants’ first two picks of the 2016 draft. With those selections they took players who will come in and fill positions that aren’t even technically starting jobs: nickel cornerback and slot receiver.

Those used to be throw-away spots, places where you stashed veterans who had lost a step or youngsters who were still learning how to play in the league. Now? They are premiere positions as more and more teams go with three-receiver sets and continue to throw the football at ridiculous rates, the Giants included.

That’s why cornerback Eli Apple and wide receiver Sterling Shepard are now Giants, and why they might not have been five years ago.

“It’s basketball on grass,” director of college scouting Marc Ross said of the new NFL. “Guys throw the ball. You need athletes in space. You still need to block and you have to protect, but the more athletes you have out there [the better]. It’s not ground-and-pound anymore. We throw the ball in this system and a lot of teams do that.”

As general manager Jerry Reese said on Thursday after selecting Apple, who will likely play nickel with veteran starters Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Janoris Jenkins on the outside: “When you have two corners in this league, you’re one short.”

The same can be said for receiver these days. Shepard should complement a group that will include Odell Beckham Jr. and possibly even Victor Cruz if he is healthy.

“What is it up to, 60 percent now that teams are in three wide or more?” Ross said on Thursday. “So your third corner is essentially a starter now and that’s the way you’ve got to look at it.”

The Giants’ front office has responded to the new thinking.

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