For the past few draft classes, there seems to be that polarizing LB/S tweener that we see go off the board in the 1st round. It started with Deonne Bucannon, then we saw Shaq Thompson and Su’a Cravens fit that mold in the past couple of drafts. This year’s guy is Jabrill Peppers. The most hyped up prospect in the country, Peppers has turned in a great junior year and has even received Heisman buzz. Considered the most versatile player in all of college football, Peppers has the ability to play anywhere in the back 7 and makes an impact as a running back and return man. While early mock drafts have featured Peppers as high as the top 5, question marks surround the New Jersey native as he doesn’t have a clear fit at the next level.
Name: Jabrill Peppers
Draft Grade: Mid-late 1st round
Comparison: Su’a Cravens
Positives: Elite athleticism – will test very well at the combine. A dynamic athlete with versatility sure to be an asset at the next level. Tremendous return man and arguably an even better running back – some experts project he would grade very well as an RB (averaged 6.2 yards per carry this season). Peppers made big strides in improving his tackling this season. Has the ability to make the big hit and big time one-on-one tackles in space. Typically lined up in the box or at the line of scrimmage, Peppers is lethal coming off the blitz and showcased elite burst and closing speed when pursuing the QB. Often times Michigan would have him as a spy and he does a good job at adjusting and forcing the QB to make a bad play. Gets himself in position to make stops against the run – racked up 16 TFL this season with 4 sacks. Despite his size, he does a very good job against big TEs in man coverage – plays physical and scrappy in man against big targets. Will be only 21 years old at the start of his rookie season.
Negatives: The big knock on Peppers will be questions regarding his coverage skills. Michigan limited him in zone coverage, and for good reason. Often times he was late to respond and showed lack of instincts in that facet of his game – he gave up some big plays this season when in zone. While he did a good job in man against TEs in college, I don’t think he’ll be able to matchup against guys like Rob Gronkowski or Tyler Eifert at the next level. Wasn’t productive in college as he intercepted just 1 pass – came in his 2nd to last game. Has made big strides in improving his tackling skills. However, when he gets himself in position to make a stop, he’ll occasionally show poor initial approach in his tackling technique and be caught out of position with a simple move from the ball carrier – he’ll need to tighten that up. Lacks ideal strength and struggles to shed blocks when engaged.
Outlook: While the hype is likely to carry Peppers as high as the top 10, I think he’s better suited in the mid-late 1st round. It’s absolutely pivotal that he goes to a team that effectively utilizes his strengths and versatility so that his skillset doesn’t go to waste. I think his best fit at the next level is at strong safety with mild implementation at linebacker based on size. He excels when playing in the box and along the line of scrimmage – especially as a spy or blitzer. Bottom-line, Peppers is just a polarizing prospect and while he’s similar to guys like Cravens and Bucannon, he’s a different mold. His athleticism and versatility make him one of a kind – both traits that will be coveted by teams and launch his draft stock up the board. Peppers will be very fun to watch at the next level and provide a team with a dynamic athlete.