In the days and weeks leading up to the NFL Draft, CardinalsSource will profile 30 draft prospects who could end up making their way to Arizona this offseason.
Player: Jabrill Peppers
Weight: 213 pounds
Arm length: 30 3/4 inches
Hand size: 9 5/8 inches
Defensive college stats: 2014: Eight tackles, 2015: 45 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 10 passes defended, 2016: 66 tackles, 13.0 tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks, one interception, one pass defended.
Strengths: While Peppers' future in the NFL is clearly as a defensive player, it's impossible not to flip on his film and look at the potential he has to help a team in any phase of the game. Peppers is just a natural football player armed with elite level anticipation skills that allowed him to play offense, defense and special teams in the Big 10 at Michigan. Peppers boasts impressive instincts and range and proved with a 4.46-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine that he has the necessary speed to be able to play in the defensive backfield at the next level. Peppers is clearly a student of the game and a strong in-the-box defender against the run who excelled against teams that liked to stretch the field to the perimeter because he always takes good angles to the football. In pass coverage, Peppers has the versatility to play close to the line of scrimmage and press up against slot receivers and tight ends, or work a zone over the top, which is something he wasn't asked to do a whole lot of for the Wolverines. While some might view Peppers as a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none, he proved at the college level that he can execute in any role he was asked to perform.
Weaknesses: The biggest question surrounding Peppers is what position will he actually play in the NFL? Is he quick enough and fluid enough to play free safety, strong enough and disciplined enough to play strong safety, or big enough and durable enough to play linebacker? Regardless of where Peppers' NFL team first places him, there's going to be a learning curve because he played all over the field for Michigan and his practice reps were somewhat limited at each position as a result. One of the biggest knocks on Peppers is that entering the NFL, he won't have taken as many reps at safety as many of his highly-regarded counterparts and for a team looking at a plug-and-play option in the first round of the draft, it's hard to sell Peppers to scouts because he didn't stick in one spot in college. Surprisingly, Peppers also didn't really rack up the counting numbers stats while at Michigan, as he only recorded 66 tackles during his final season and notched just one interception in his career. Scouts will see those numbers and think his perception as a defender is inflated because of the theatrics he created on offense and special teams.
Peppers' fit: There are going to be plenty of teams that don't consider Peppers as an option on their draft board in the first round because of the questions and concerns about his fit as an NFL player, but the Cardinals shouldn't be one of those teams. Is it possible Peppers was simply an outstanding college player who's skill set won't translate naturally to the next level? Of course, but if Peppers finds the right system, he could be a dangerous weapon. What makes Peppers so intriguing from our point of view is if he's on the field with Tyrann Mathieu and Deone Bucannon at the same time, because all three are players who are comfortable playing close to the line of scrimmage and all are more than capable coverage assets. In many ways, Peppers is similar to Bucannon because he was viewed as a safety coming out of college before the Cardinals realized he needed to be an in-the-box defender. Peppers fits the Cardinals because it's an organization that loves versatility, loves creating chaos on the defensive side of the ball, and could always use another special teams weapon. Perhaps Peppers begins his career as a subpackage player, but with the way Bruce Arians likes to deploy his personnel, it's not unfathomable to suggest that Peppers could wind up contributing in all three phases if a team like the Cardinals chose to go that route.