A feature of this 2017 NFL draft class has been a large number of surprising decisions by underclassmen prospects that were unexpected. One that certainly does not surprise in the slightest is the news that Michigan Wolverine Jabrill Peppers has announced all but officially that he is indeed going to head to the pros. As a redshirt sophomore, he leaves with two potential years of eligibility unused. It was not a complete lock that he would leave Ann Arbor, having hinted to the Big Ten Network in early December that a return was possible.
A do-it-all playmaker with elite athletic abilities, Peppers’ 2016 season saw him fully demonstrate himself as a versatile weapon as opposed to an athlete without a clear position fit, and led to him earning a spot in New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist. While he continued to contribute in a wide array of areas on offense, defense and special teams, he had his best season yet in his primary role as a hybrid safety and linebacker.
The long list of production from Peppers this year, brace yourselves:
On offense, from both hand-offs and direct snaps in the wildcat, he carried the ball 27 times for 167 yards (6.19 yards per carry) and 3 touchdowns, adding two receptions, albeit for just 3 yards.
On special teams, he took 21 punt returns for 310 yards (14.76 per return) and took one back for a score versus Colorado, and 10 kick returns for 260 yards.
On defense, where he spent the majority of his snaps, he piled up 71 tackles (48 solo), with 15 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks, along with 1 forced fumble and an interception.
NFL projection for Peppers
As a natural football player no matter where you line him up, players such as Peppers do not come around often. Ultimately though, the 6ft 0, 208 lb Peppers looks by far a best fit as a safety in the NFL. Some have mentioned the role that Deone Bucannon has been deployed in by the Arizona Cardinals as a potential comparison, but a more traditional safety role seems more fitting.
As expected from a player of his physical skills, the range of field he is able to cover, front and back, sideline to sideline, is impressive, while his speed, reactions and direction breaks allow him to track solidly enough when covering slot receivers and tight ends. He’s improved in terms of his tackling technique and the commitment in the tackle from previous film in 2015, and shown a knack for getting an early jump on plays to make stops behind the line of scrimmage for losses. He’ll have his growing pains early as he focuses more consistently on a primary position and role on a team, but the sheer amount of work ethic required to be able to contribute in all three phases at Michigan should not be underestimated, and that commitment will encourage that he’s not a guy to just coast on his physical gifts alone.
The grading on Peppers appears to be relatively varied, with some considering him a top five prospect, down to the late first round, but ultimately it seems inevitable that he will go somewhere on the opening night of draft weekend.
Thoughts on Peppers decision? Discuss in the comments below!