In three years at Michigan, Jabrill Peppers proved himself to be one of the NCAA’s most dynamic athletes. He played all over UM’s secondary and at linebacker, returned punts and kickoffs, got reps as a runner and receiver, and even lined up as a wildcat quarterback a couple times. Sometimes, this all happened in one game.
In short, Peppers was the Swiss Army knife who helped assemble a Wolverine revival. His versatility even led him to New York as a finalist for the 2016 Heisman Trophy.
While his athleticism isn’t in question, his place in the NFL is. The multi-faceted player is a jack of all trades but master of none. He’d be most useful as a linebacker, but at 5’11 and 213 pounds, is too small to be effective at the next level. He’s got the speed and explosiveness to play safety, but failed to show off the kind of ball skills he’ll need to provide for over-the-top help against NFL quarterbacks. His work on the offensive side of the ball was more novelty act than reliable weapon.
Will Peppers be drafted in the first round?
Draft experts are torn on where Peppers will land. A collection of mock drafts — the most recent ones coming on April 20 — peg the Michigan standout anywhere from the top of the first round to the bottom of the second.
Where Mock Drafts Predict Jabrill Peppers Will Be Drafted
|Dan Kadar, SB Nation||2||38||Chargers|
|Adam Stites, SB Nation||2||39||Jets|
|Mel Kiper, ESPN||1||10||Bills|
|Todd McShay, ESPN||2||45||Cardinals|
|Rob Rang, CBS||1||30||Steelers|
|Dane Brugler, CBS||1||30||Steelers|
|Will Brinson, CBS||1||29||Packers|
|Jared Dubin, CBS||1||30||Steelers|
|Dieter Kurtenbach, FOX Sports||2||49||Washington|
|Chris Burke, SI.com||1||22||Dolphins|
|Pro Football Focus||2||57||Lions (via trade)|
There’s a good chance he hears his name called Thursday night, but it’s just as likely that he has to wait until Friday, especially after reports from earlier in the week.
A hamstring injury kept him from playing in the Orange Bowl, leaving the Wolverines without an important player in an eventual 33-32 defeat. Despite his injury, some teams were concerned about him missing the game, according to Adam Schefter.
Peppers’ stock was hurt even further by a diluted urine sample at the combine. That goes down as a failed drug test in the NFL’s eyes, though it doesn’t necessarily mean he was taking any banned substances.
Where does he rank among NFL safety prospects?
Peppers worked out with both defensive backs and linebackers at the combine and predictably roasted his linebacking competition. His 4.46-second 40 time was a full .12 seconds faster than the next closest prospect — but he was also 19 pounds lighter than the event’s second-fastest linebacker. It would have ranked fifth among safeties, 13th among cornerbacks, and 15th among wide receivers.
That leaves teams with a difficult decision in the NFL draft. Peppers helped his team by taking any role head coach Jim Harbaugh asked, but his limited snaps at any one position ultimately hurts his draft stock. When he did settle in at safety, his likely landing spot in the pros, he wasn’t exceptional against the pass. According to Pro Football Focus, he allowed 58 receptions on 93 passes when quarterbacks targeted the man he was covering.
Any team hoping to add him to its secondary will do so knowing he’s an unfinished project; it’s going to take time and effort to make him an NFL safety.
If teams are looking for an uber-athletic project, Peppers may not even be the No. 1 choice. Connecticut’s Obi Melifonwu wowed scouts with a tremendous all-around performance at the combine, posting the event’s second-longest broad jump of all time, notching a near four-foot vertical leap, and running an even 4.40-second 40-yard dash. With four interceptions and 118 tackles last fall, he’s got better safety bonafides than the Michigan standout as well.
Those two stand a full tier below two college safeties likely to land in the top 10 of this year’s draft. LSU’s Jamal Adams and Ohio State’s Malik Hooker are both exceptional athletes who produced well in college and project as longtime starters and potential Pro Bowlers. Other players like Washington’s Budda Baker, Utah’s Marcus Williams, and Texas A&M’s Justin Evans could sneak their way ahead of Peppers on draft boards across the league.
Who is in the market for a player like Peppers?
Every team in the league could use a weapon like the former Wolverine, but the ones most willing to spend a premium pick on the do-it-all defensive back-linebacker-punt-returner-tailback-receiver-quarterback are the ones who need significant secondary help.
The Cardinals, who have the No. 13 and No. 45 picks in the draft, could pair him with Tyrann Mathieu to create the NFL’s most athletic safety tandem. The Buccaneers need someone who can roam from sideline to sideline to deter division rival quarterbacks Drew Brees, Cam Newton, and Matt Ryan; they pick at No. 19 and No. 50. Washington was hot garbage when it came to its deep coverage last fall and could scoop Peppers at No. 17 or No. 49.
They aren’t the only ones who will strongly be considering the Michigan man. The Bears, Browns, and Jets need help at just about every position. The Cowboys, Packers, Chargers, Rams, and Steelers aren’t as desperate, but each could spend a late first- or early second-rounder on the young safety without drawing the ire of draft pundits.
Peppers is one of this year’s most interesting prospects. He brings value and versatility to any roster, but is a long-term project who will require patience before developing into a starter in the secondary. That doesn’t mean he can’t contribute right away — playing under a former NFL head coach has given plenty of examples of how a team can deploy him. The question now is how to balance his role as a full-time safety with the gadget plays that made him so dangerous at Michigan.