ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Jabrill Peppers will play in the NFL in 2017, a move that surprised almost no one, save for those who held on to the outside hope that he would return for one more year of eligibility at Michigan.
Projected as one of this year’s top picks in April’s NFL draft, Peppers announced his intention to turn professional on Tuesday, after three seasons at Michigan.
What Peppers did at Michigan
In his three seasons at Michigan, Peppers proved he was the most versatile player in college football. He played in all three phases (offense, defense, special teams), excelled in each role he held and was part of an effort that helped bring Michigan back to national prominence.
Peppers played primarily at linebacker this season, and became Michigan’s third Heisman Trophy finalist since 1997, joining Charles Woodson (1997) and Chris Perry (2003). Peppers proved there was room and a role for versatility in college football as a once-in-a-generation player.
Some argued that Peppers didn’t do enough to earn consideration as a Heisman Trophy finalist, but Peppers accomplished everything he could accomplish at the college level, save for helping Michigan win a national championship. That wasn’t solely on Peppers, though his emotions were raw after the Orange Bowl on Dec. 30 in Miami Gardens, Fla., which he sat out because of an injury to his left hamstring.
Combined with a reported ACL tear for Michigan tight end Jake Butt in the Orange Bowl, the tea leaves were easy to read: It was time for Peppers to move to the next level of football.
Where he’ll go
Just about every major scouting service and analyst projected Peppers as a first-round NFL draft pick.
Earlier this week, ESPN NFL draft analyst Todd McShay listed Peppers at No. 8 in his top 32 prospects for this year’s draft and wrote:
“Peppers is a polarizing player because it’s a little tricky to find him a true position, but I see him as a great fit for the modern NFL. He has the speed and athleticism to thrive in space and the toughness to play bigger than his 205-pound frame. Think of Peppers as a hybrid player at the next level — a Deone Bucannon-type — who can help your team in a lot of ways … The biggest concern for me is his lack of ball production at Michigan (he has only one career interception).”
CBSSports.com, in its most recent draft rankings, projects Peppers at No. 13 as an outside linebacker.
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. last month projected Peppers as a first-round pick, but with one caveat: His role could fit with one team but not necessarily with another.
“In this league now, you’re not defining positions,” Kiper said on an NFL draft conference call in December. “It’s a different league now. The roles are different. The type of player you need now is different for them.
“This is a kid who can do a lot of things — in the right defense.”
Given his size — Michigan listed Peppers as a generous 6-foot-1 — Peppers could also have a place on special teams. Ourlads.com ranks Peppers as the No. 2 return specialist in this year’s NFL draft.
How this will affect Michigan
With Peppers’ departure, Michigan loses a unanimous All-American, its third-leading tackler, its leading special-teams returner and a player who could step into certain offensive situations (such as the Wildcat formation).
It will take at least two players, and possibly a third, to fill the void that Peppers leaves. Two days before the Orange Bowl, Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown championed freshman Josh Metellus as a possible replacement for Peppers; Metellus played in Peppers’ place in the Orange Bowl.
“He has to get a little bigger, maybe,” Brown said of Metellus. “But he can do a lot of the things (on defense) that we ask Jabrill to do.
“Now, I’m not saying he’s Jabrill Peppers. I’m just saying he can be the poor man’s Jabrill Peppers. We’re excited about him. I think he could play either safety position (too). An intelligent, understands-concept guy.”
However this happens, it won’t be an easy task to replicate or replace Peppers.
Jabrill Peppers in three seasons at Michigan
2014 (3 games, then redshirted)
- One punt return for 6 yards
- Eight tackles
2015 (12 games, played primarily at safety)
- 45 tackles, including 34 solo, 5.5 for a loss of 16 yards
- 10 pass breakups
- 18 carries for 72 yards and a touchdown
- Eight catches for 79 yards
- Averaged 11.4 yards on 17 punt returns, 27.9 yards on eight kickoff returns
2016 (12 games, played primarily at linebacker)
- 72 tackles, including a team-leading 16 for a loss of 65 yards
- Four sacks
- One interception
- One forced fumble
- Eight quarterback hurries
- Averaged 26 yards on 10 kickoff returns and 14.8 yards on 21 punt returns
- 167 yards and three touchdowns on 27 carries, and two catches for 3 yards