Manhattan-- Standing at 5'11" and weighing in at 213 lbs. is the super-athlete Jabrill Peppers out of Michigan. Peppers is one of the most enticing defenders in the draft, and has been known for his speed (ran the 40-yard dash in 4.46 seconds) and unique athleticism which enables him to play various positions on the field. His natural position in college was at linebacker, but teams have been worrisome about his lack of size, and have predicted his move to safety, as his agility and speed promote the idea. Ultimately, Peppers was an impact player, earning All-American credentials, won the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, the Paul Hornung Award and the Lott Trophy.
With Big Blue uncertain in the middle of the field, Peppers could be too appealing to pass up if he makes it to the 23rd pick. With Kelvin Sheppard's departure, second year player B.J. Goodson will have the opportunity to impress. Peppers could be a solid addition to the linebacker corps, but since he has a smaller frame, he would be utilized more on passing downs and coverage schemes. Peppers could theoretically replace Keenen Robinson next season, and provide depth at safety and corner back. Another benefit that Peppers brings to the table is his kick returning ability, in which he is naturally gifted in the open field and can create plays out of nothing. With the Giants lacking depth at the linebacker position, Peppers could provide depth and athleticism at the position; now that we have broken down why he would be a good fit, let’s take a look at his strengths and weaknesses.
Acquiring immense athleticism, Peppers is dangerous in open space, and can change direction in a split-second, often making tacklers miss. He moves with the flow of the play, and is willing to sacrifice his body to contain running plays. Is diverse in his positioning; he can line up in the slot, safety, or linebacker in sub-packages. Despite his smaller frame, he throws his weight into tackles and musters as much power as he can manage. His speed allows him to close in on runners quickly, and can cover the entire width of the field when the play is bounced outside. Has the ability to man cover and can handle most tight ends due to his physicality. He can stick with receivers, and even re-route them with his strength. Can blitz effectively from all angles, and get to the quarterback with immense speed. Has electrifying return man abilities, and hypes up his teammates with big plays and a passionate personality. He has leadership characteristics, and if channeled can turn into a defensive leader.
Scouts have questioned his football IQ and his natural instincts, as he only managed one interception and 10 passes defended during his career at Michigan. Has been known to lack recognition of the construct of a play, and must increase his ability to improvise and identify play types. Tends to not trust his feet in coverage, and with hold on to receivers at the break of the route. Is easily baited by quarterback pump fakes and stare downs, and bites on play-action plays, leaving the middle of the field wide open. Needs to refine tackling technique, as he hits rather than wraps-up. If Peppers can improve his technique and let his natural athleticism shine, he has the potential to become a top defender in the NFL.
NFL Comparison: Eric Weddle
While Peppers has insane athletic ability, and will most likely play a multi-position role in the NFL, his ability to return kicks with ultimately boost his draft profile. With Big Blue lacking a premier threat at the return man position, and McAdoo surely not wanting to risk Odell Beckham Jr., Peppers would fit that role nicely. While he didn't have the production, most teams look for in a first-round defender, he has the potential to blossom into a feared defender in the league.