The Green Bay Packers have been in need of a defensive play maker since they cut Charles Woodson in 2013. Jabrill Peppers, the 21 year old Michigan junior has been compared to the 1997 Heisman winner, but does not have the same ball hawking ability of the future Hall of Famer.
Michigan had a lot of depth at defensive back, so they asked him to play as a linebacker. This allowed him to attack the line of scrimmage and play all over the field. In the NFL, I see him playing the Deone Bucannon hybrid safety role, matching up with the athletic tight ends around the league, and plugging up running lanes.
Peppers is 5’11” 210 pounds and a dynamic athlete. At the combine, He ran a 4.46 in the 40 yard dash, 19 reps on the bench press, and jumped 35.5 inches on the vertical leap. Deone Bucannon, who I believe is his best comparison, is 6’1″ 215 pounds. At the 2014 draft combine, he ran a 4.49 in the 40 yard dash, 19 reps on the bench press, and jumped a 36.5 inches on the vertical leap.
One part of Jabrill’s game that does compare with Charles Woodson is his ability to attack the line of scrimmage. Most defensive backs sit in their hole five yards down the field, and wait for the ball carrier to make their way up field to attempt their tackle. Peppers does a great job moving up field, trying to blow up the play.
He uses angles at an elite level. Peppers keeps his feet moving and waits for the ball carrier to make the slightest commitment to their next move, then he bounces like any great predator.
The Michigan star is difficult to block, with his ability to cut on a dime, it’s just hard to get your hands on him. He’ll plant his outside foot, and quickly cut back to his inside foot as a lower body swim move. Next thing you know, he’s past the blocker taking the ball carrier to the ground.
Peppers wants to play safety at the NFL level, as he discussed at the NFL combine. The biggest problem he’ll face is the lack of time he spent actually playing safety at Michigan. The NFL scouts have very little tape to gauge him, which could hurt his draft stock.
He’s undersized for a NFL linebacker, leaving teams to either buy into him as a safety, or decide if his skill set will make up for his lack of size.
At either position, his play making skills have been put into question. He only intercepted one pass in his college career, coming in his final game against Ohio State. The only fumble he forced came against Central Florida, and he caused it by hitting the quarterback on an option run, right as he was pitching the ball.
Another issue he faces is over committing to making a big play. He’ll use his insane vision to find a gap to the ball carrier, and try to make the big play. It can hurt the team’s defense, as he has left his gap assignment, leaving a big hole in the team’s defense.
Jabrill Peppers’ draft stock is very fluid. There’s a lot going on with him. Teams aren’t sure which position he’ll play, which makes it more difficult to commit a first round pick. His pro day will have a lot of influence on his stock.
If he plays well, and shows the ability to stay with receivers down the field, he could be drafted in the top half of the first round. If he slips on the top of a route, he could find himself being drafted early in the second round. As a Packer fan, you may want to head to Ann Arbor and grease the practice field.
Fit with Packers:
The Michigan star would fit on the Packers in multiple roles. Green Bay could use one of the new hybrid safety-linebackers to match up with the ever more athletic tight ends around the league. But, the Packers have also lost Micah Hyde to free agency. Hyde did a whole lot of different things for the team.
Peppers could be used in the Micah Hyde role, running all over the field matching up with anyone from a slot receiver, an athletic tight end, or a star receiver on the edge. He wouldn’t be as good of a cover man as Hyde, who always seemed to be on the hip of his assignment. However, Peppers is the far superior player at the line of scrimmage. He could get into gaps that Hyde’s physique didn’t allow, and pressure the quarterback or bang heads with the running back.
The Packers are pretty happy with Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix and Morgan Burnett, but sometimes you just need to take a risk on a big talent. Especially one that brings the shoe string, line of scrimmage attack that Charles Woodson once brought to the team. If he’s available with the 29th pick, they’d be well off taking the risk.