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2017 NFL Draft: Evaluating Jabrill Peppers

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Buyer beware for this ‘tweener.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Jabrill Peppers is a tough player to evaluate it. For a player that manned several different positions in college, trying to find his best NFL position is a bit of a challenge. First we’ll go over his strengths and weaknesses.

Strengths

It all starts with Peppers’ physical abilities. He has a slender frame and is extremely fast. This allowed Michigan to move him all over the field. In 2015, Peppers played more frequently in the secondary as a defensive back and safety. In 2016, they moved him up closer to the line of scrimmage and had him play linebacker predominantly. This move allowed him to use his speed on the edge, collapsing the pocket when his number was called to blitz. In fact, his pass rush skills were a pleasant surprise when watching the film. He uses his speed well and even can duck and dip around offensive tackles. This led to a common trend in Peppers’ game: he is at his best when he’s allowed to attack the play, especially when up near the line of scrimmage. He demonstrates good instincts, diagnosing plays and cutting them off quickly. Jabrill Peppers’ intelligence should be noted here, too. The ability to play rotate between positions in a single game is not something everyone can pull off.

Weaknesses

My main concern with Jabrill Peppers is how his skills will translate to the NFL. I liked him a lot more as a linebacker in 2016 than as a defensive back in 2015. That move played to his strengths. In the NFL though he’s most likely going to play safety. That is a problem because I have major concerns about his coverage ability. He was not asked to cover receivers often in 2016, and his 2015 body of work isn’t nearly strong enough for me to overlook that question mark. In particular, there is very little film on him covering receivers deep. Finally, I thought Peppers was a “passenger” on too many plays this year, which is to say that he was not involved as frequently as I expected.

Conclusions

Peppers pulled triple duty in many games, playing defense, offense and returning kicks. Personally, I don’t put much weight on his offensive and special teams contributions, as I don’t expect it to continue in the NFL. I think you could see the occasional gadget play with him on offense, but that benefit isn’t enough for me to factor it into his evaluation. His kick return ability should be considered, but that aspect of the NFL game is becoming less and less important.

We have seen a push towards safety-linebacker hybrids in recent years, so someone will be tempted to take Peppers in the first round. A creative defensive coordinator will love his versatility. I would be hesitant to use a first round selection on him though. Right now he’s a jack of all trades but a master of none. When looking at first round options you want someone who was dominant at their position. Even when you’ve mastered your position in college, the jump to the NFL is still a huge challenge. Learning the nuances of the safety spot is just going to add another layer of difficulty to Peppers’ learning curve. For these reasons I would classify him as a really raw prospect. He most certainly has the athletic ability and intellect to pull it off successfully, but if and when will remain the question for any team that selects him.