IDP 20/20: Jabrill Peppers

Mo Brewington

Welcome to the IDP 20/20 series. Alongside our offensive Dynasty Scouts coverage, we will also be profiling and providing 20 facts you must know about 15 of the top incoming IDP rookies in the class.

1.) Name – Jabrill Peppers

2.) College – University of Michigan

3.) Height/Weight – 6-foot-1, 205-pounds

4.) Birth Date –  October 4, 1995

5.) Class – Junior (Played 25 games at Michigan)

6.) College Stats – Career defensive stats – 86 solos, 119 total tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks

Career rushing stats 45 rushes for 239 yards and 5 touchdowns (5.3 yards per carry)

Career receiving stats – 10 catches for 82 yards and no touchdowns (8.2 yards per reception)

Career return stats – Punt returns – 39 for 510 yards and one touchdown (13.1 yards per return). Kickoff returns – 18 for 483 yards and no touchdowns (26.3)

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7.) NFL Draft Round Projection – Round One. Somewhere, there’s a team who will fall in love with what Peppers can do on a football field. That could happen at any point on the board. Initially, he was viewed as a top ten pick but as we get into the evaluation process, reports of scouts with doubts are surfacing. The more uncertainty there is, the more likely Peppers is to slide.

Yet, if he slides to the very end of round one, there’s a guy up in New England with “the cojones and the know-how” to take a shot on Peppers and find a way to make it work. The league should probably hope that doesn’t happen.

8.) Current NFL comp – Telvin Smith

He’s an undersized competitor whose game is more speed than power. Major questions similarly surrounded Telvin Smith’s ability to play linebacker in the NFL. In his three professional seasons, Smith has finished as LB24, LB6, and LB14, putting to rest any question of his ability to hold his own in the box.

Even still, Telvin Smith holds a two-inch height advantage over Jabrill Peppers, and outweighs him by 12 pounds. Peppers may bulk up slightly, but expecting him to exceed 215 lbs seems unrealistic. His game will remain predicated on speed, over power. How NFL coaches view his eventual position will vary between organizations.

9.) Best possible destination – Tennessee Titans

Peppers, much like Tennessee’s Derek Barnett, is a player whose position in mock drafts is all over the board in the first round. One of the more interesting takes out there belongs to’s Bucky Brooks, who mocked Peppers to the Titans at pick number five in round one. His thinking is that Titan’s defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau could deploy Jabrill in a similar way to how Troy Polamalu was used while Lebeau was in charge of the Steelers’ defense.

The theory is intriguing. Yet, where I disagree with Brooks’ projection is with Tennessee selecting Peppers in the top five. It seems a touch too early. Tennessee acquired the fifth pick in this draft by trading last year’s top overall selection to the Rams, who took Jared Goff. The Titans’ own pick is the 18th on day one. Depending on how the board falls, they may be able to sit tight, and get a second shot at Peppers in the middle of the first round.

10.) Worst possible destination – Any team who misuses him.

There is no bad team for Peppers to land on, other than one who refuses to allow him to play to his full capabilities. He is not Deone Bucannon. Expecting him to hold up in the middle of a defense, against a power run game would be a mistake. Letting him explode off the edge to submarine runners in the backfield could yield dividends, in the form of TFLs. Placing him in coverage against receivers with elite speed could expose his coverage deficiencies. Playing him against those he holds a speed and quickness advantage over could make him a difference maker.

Peppers is a chess piece. Those who play chess know the game is all about match-ups. You want to protect your best pieces, and avoid exposing them to danger; using them to attack your opponent’s weaknesses when you hold the strategic advantage. A good coordinator will create this strategic advantage and allow Peppers’ quickness and closing speed to overpower the offense’s most vulnerable facets, as Michigan did against this empty set versus Colorado.

11.) Best current skill – Closing Speed

Peppers should put up some amazing times in the short-area quickness tests at this week’s Combine. He’s able to sit in a shallow zone and read what’s going on in the backfield. Once he’s confirmed the play is coming to his side of the field, he abandons his assignment and explodes toward the ball carrier, closing the distance between himself and the runner in the blink of an eye.

12.) Skill that needs to be improved – Upper Body Strength

Any hope we have for Jabrill Peppers thriving in a “hybrid” type role in the box will hinge on whether or not he can get off blocks and make stops among the big fellas. He’s a physical player. Yet, when a blocker gets a hold of him he’s typically taken out of the play.

Peppers has become adept at using his quickness to evade blockers.

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Still, this technique won’t work as well in the NFL, where the linemen are quicker and more agile. Within a few seasons, he’s likely to get stronger, and may wind playing around 210 pounds.

13.) Projected dynasty value – As a rookie who appears destined for a specialized role, Peppers’ initial snap count may be limited. His dynasty value will be dependent on his landing spot and how that team deploys him. Looking over previous rookie safety/linebacker prospects and their usage in year one, there’s a fairly wide disparity in playing time.

Keanu Neal played 82.8% of the Falcons’ snaps last year, in his rookie season. Neal finished seventh in fantasy points among defensive backs, not just rookies. Then there’s Landon Collins. This year’s leading defensive back scorer rocked an impressive 94.4% of the Giants’ defensive snaps in his rookie campaign of 2015. He was also the seventh highest scoring DB his rookie season. Finally, Deone Bucannon played a measly 65% of the snaps for the Cardinals during his first year as a pro. His 2014 point total placed him 36th among IDP scorers at defensive back.

Now, Bucannon is a bona fide linebacker in nearly all IDP leagues. Where Peppers ends up playing in the NFL is one of the Draft’s great mysteries. His destination holds the answers to whether he’ll be a year one IDP contributor, or a bench jockey eating up a spot on your dynasty roster as a rookie.

On a team like Cleveland, he could contribute from day one, giving the Browns the difference maker their defense desperately needs. New England may be more apt to utilize Peppers complete skill set, but in such a piecemeal fashion that his scoring is sporadic, until he earns the trust of the coaching staff. This question of Pepper’s ultimate Dynasty value simply can not be answered until after draft day.

15.) A dash of Peppers on offense – In 2016, Jabrill Peppers solidified his Heisman candidacy with a 27-167-3 stat line as a running back, good for an average of 6.2 yards per carry. Combined with his skills in the return game, Peppers has more to offer a team than just his hybrid ability on defense. This is a nice bullet point for the resume, but don’t bank on any meaningful playing time in the backfield, on Sundays.

He’ll definitely see time as a weapon in the return game. As a running back, don’t expect anything more than the occasional gadget play. We should consider ourselves lucky is he averages more than two carries per game. The older he gets, the less these plays will be called.

Regardless, we want credit for any and all accomplishments our players make on the football field. If your league doesn’t award points to IDP players for their work on offense and special teams, it’s time to call a league vote and get that corrected.

16.) – Jack of all trades- Jabrill Peppers played 11 – count ‘em – 11 different positions for the Wolverines, this season. SB Nation ran a story, complete with highlights on this feat.

Some teams will view Jabrill Peppers versatility as a blessing. When it comes time to cut the roster down to 53 men, Peppers may serve as their emergency running back or wideout, allowing them not to carry a fourth running back, or sixth receiver. They may choose to keep a minimum number of linebackers or DBs, because they feel Peppers can bounce around the defense and fill holes, as needed.

Savings rosters spots is important to coaches. It allows them to carry extra players at positions of weakness. Having a chess piece like Peppers will be a boon in the eyes of coaches like Bill Belichick and Andy Reid.

17.) Master of none – At the same time, playing 11 different positions may not be such a feather in the cap for other teams. This debate is had every year around draft time, and again at the end of the season. Some prospects are lauded for their versatility. Others get criticized for being one-dimensional. At season’s end, we see the extremely versatile player didn’t excel in any one area. While the one-dimensional player did his one job extremely well. These scenarios and outcomes can also be reversed. (See Tyreek Hill, Shaq Thompson, and Tony “Two Links” Lippett*.)

*(Lippett has two links in DLF’s player profile database, one at wide receiver and one at defensive back.)

The problem for NFL scouts and general managers is – their jobs depend on finding players who help their teams win. Evaluators are hesitant to take a risk on a player who may not reap an immediate return on investment. For this reason, Peppers, once thought of as a sure-fire top ten pick, could just as easily slide into the latter half of round one…or further, if teams feel more confident drafting a great cover safety, or great tackling linebacker, than a great athlete.

18.) Where are the turnovers? – For all the accolades, and accomplishments, there is still one fly in the ointment. Jabrill Peppers had just a single interception, no forced fumbles, and zero fumble recoveries during his time at Michigan.

With his speed and explosiveness, we’d like to see Peppers make plays in pass coverage. The more the ball is in his hands, the better his chances of lighting up IDP scoreboards.

There will be considerable attention paid to the ball skills drills at the Combine to see if Peppers has trouble hauling in the football. His opportunities on offense came mostly as a runner, not a receiver. He caught only ten passes for 82 yards. It won’t be the end of the world if Peppers proves to have hands of stone, but it sure would help his cause to prove he can generate turnovers.

19.) Final analysis – Jabrill Peppers is a tough, gutsy player with speed, quickness, and explosiveness to burn. While it’s nice to see him make plays offensively, and in the return game, his best hope for NFL success is finding a team willing to give him a job, and letting him master it. He’s needs the opportunity to be the best at one position. Let him defend the slot, or use him as a strong safety, and allow him master his craft. If this is done, we could be talking about a truly special player in a couple of years.

20.) Here’s a look at Peppers in action from the 2016 game against Colorado. It’s a nine tackle, 3.5 TFL, one sack performance, with two carries for 24 yards, plus a couple of electrifying punt returns, one of which went to the house. Enjoy.


mo brewington
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