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The Cleveland Browns and the Jabrill Peppers Challenge

The Browns decision to pass on Malik Hooker raises the stakes for Gregg Williams and Jabrill Peppers, who together must mold the Wolverine alum into a force for the Cleveland Browns defense

The Browns ended up with a haul in this year's draft that could easily have been a coup as Malik Hooker fell to the Browns at #12 in a perfect storm after selecting Myles Garrett at the top of the draft.

Both Garrett and Hooker project as generational talents, and the Browns could have landed both amidst reminders of a Ravens championship team led by pass rusher Terrell Suggs, safety Ed Reed who patrolled the middle and picked off passes, and a dominant defense that carried a very average Trent Dilfer at quarterback to the podium.

The numbers guys won out and traded down for an extra #1 pick in 2018.

Gregg Williams celebrated as he announced Garrett and Jabrill Peppers were the two guys he wanted.

The Browns FO announced they felt fortunate to land Peppers at #25 while Peppers indicated he went sooner than expected.

So much for clarity.

Time will tell how well a guy with a single career interception measures up to Malik Hooker who picked off passes endlessly in practices and also showed up on game day.

A pass first league is a get after the passer league and also a pass interception league.  Both are disruptive to a quarterback's rhythm, but a defense becomes dominant when both combine.

Hue Jackson has quietly emerged as the thought leader and leading voice of weighed understanding and strategic vision as Hue led the charge for potential Hall of Fame talent Myles Garrett and also led the charge for Malik Hooker.  It's rare to hear an offensive minded coach advocate for defense, but Hue did just that and voiced what he felt was best for the team and not what he felt most common comfortable coaching.

Gregg Williams described Garrett as having the best get off he has seen since Bruce Smith and Jevon Kearse, and it's easy to fathom a passionate defensive coordinator connecting with a highly passionate safety in the mold of Mark Barron who may provide a needed charge.

Peppers can ignite a defense but also brings more raw athleticism than skills.  Players with  measurables and talent but lacking skills can just as easily fall further into round two.

Combining Peppers with Hooker should Peppers have continued to drop may have served competing voices.  More significantly, it may have also pronounced the defense 'done'.

Sashi Brown commented there is a point where trading down for extra picks goes too far.  That point is reached when a trade down creates increased distance to that 'done' point instead of shortening it, and a tradedown at #12 appears to have reached that point on one side of the ball not withstanding an extra first round pick in 2018.

Peppers plays best when he plays in the box and chases after the ball.  It's a perfect combination with a ball hawk centerfielder in place and can just as easily lead to balls thrown over the heads of defenders absent a centerfielder.  Except, Browns passed over the player who could set the table and left a gap unless Williams thinks Peppers will develop.

Former GM Phil Savage once commented you can't change the fundamental style of a player.

Williams is challenged to do just that and develop a player who PFF did not score well when playing in coverage.

Williams captured a similar but lesser talent in Mark Barron who made his first Pro Bowl this past season, and there's little reason to believe Williams can't do the same here.

Except, Peppers is earmarked for a somewhat different role.

Time will tell if Hue Jackson can manage the long arc of Peppers' development and a kid who likes to play on both sides of the ball which can just as easily be a distraction to his development as it was at Michigan.

Can Williams and Jackson bring self discipline as they bring Peppers along, establish goals, and tell Peppers he won't be inserted on offense until he masters certain things on defense?!

The trade down makes sense if Williams can harness Peppers as an equal talent as Hooker which otherwise presents as a tall task.

A pass rushing defensive end projects as a difference maker when compared to a run stuffing tackle, and a ball hawking safety projects similarly when compared to a safety that plays in the box.

Maybe Williams pulls the rabbit out of the hat, and Peppers develops surprisingly and quickly and becomes a dominant force against both the run and pass.

Maybe that 2018 draft pick adds just the right piece that completes a championship defense.  Or maybe that 2018 pick combines with the Browns first round pick and throws the Browns in the running for quarterback Sam Darnold or safety James Derwin who both project as generational talents.


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