In a recent mock draft, NFL Network’s Bucky Brooks had the Chargers taking Jabril Peppers at 7 overall. I’ve had thoughts on how Peppers game translates to the NFL for some time and now that he’s back to being mocked that high, and specifically to this team, there’s no better time to talk about him.
“Versatile” is the worst kind of buzz word because it implies a player is good at multiple things. Most of the times it’s not fair to the player how we cast that on them. This case is no different. With Peppers, he comes off at versatile because at Michigan they lined him up everywhere. Single high safety, linebacker, box safety, head up on the tight end on the line of scrimmage, in the slot, and even wide as a corner. If there’s a position in the back 7, he probably played it.
Peppers’ projection becomes tougher once you take into account his size. He’s listed at 6’1 205 pounds but I’m expecting him to be closer to 215-220. Hell, he’s working out with the linebackers at the combine, so you’d expect he gains some weight. A buddy of mine told me he’s closer to 5’10 220 so we’ll see what comes of that when the measurements start to flow in.
What I want to do today is project each role Peppers could possibly play. I’ll just use 2 plays to describe each but keep in mind that reflects what I’ve seen consistently. There were quite a few games where there just weren’t very many usable reps at all. Ohio State was the most projectable game so you’ll likely see many examples from there.
Let’s start with his most common projection, in the slot. Due to his size, most people want Peppers to play in space and in the slot because an athlete like him should be able to cover slots. In high school Peppers ran a 10.52 100 yard dash. That’s moving. I’m guessing that’s also 20 pounds ago. In coverage, Peppers is extremely grabby. He does not look comfortable in space. I’ve seen far too many reps look like this.
That’s against Ohio State’s Curtis Samuel, a very good player. Likely the type of athlete Peppers will see every Sunday next year. Jabril is extremely grabby in coverage at the top of the route. Something I did not expect to see.
He just doesn’t have a good feel in space. Reaction and recovery is not his strength in coverage.
Later in the game, he was in man coverage against a tight end. He had no help over the middle after the offense motioned and didn’t adjust his alignment. He gave up an easy catch on a crossing route that fell a yard shy of the 1st. Even a player with Peppers speed can’t recover like that if he doesn’t give himself a chance pre-snap.
This next play was against Samuel. This is what I mean by having a feel for routes.
Once Samuel took that inside stem, that was a dead give away that an out route was coming. Even as he got to the top of the route, Peppers is still late breaking.
On his interception this game, Peppers was actually beat and beat pretty good. The ball just happened to go off the receivers hands. It was a simple curl route and Peppers was late to break after giving too much ground.
I haven’t seen anything that suggests Peppers can be a good cover man in the slot.
Playing in the box
Whether it be as a linebacker, as an end man line on the line of scrimmage, the projection gets tougher the closer Peppers gets to the quarterback. To play in the box you have to have a certain mentality. If you’re undersized, that can’t get in the way. You still have to attack with the proper run fit as designed by the defense.
It doesn’t take long to notice that Peppers isn’t going to last in the box. Here are a couple examples against Wisconsin, a physical, pro-style offense. Below he’s the linebacker to the top of the screen:
This is a popular projection for Peppers, weak-linebacker. Once you see the pulling guard, that’s his key to run and chase. Instead, he stands his ground and worse, retreats. That’s not the kind of mentality a linebacker needs to have
He is the end man on the line of scrimmage to the bottom of the screen. That effort isn’t going to cut it in the NFL. Never have I seen a “1st round pick” get blocked 12+ yards downfield. I’d need to see more desire, more fight out of Jabril there.
In the box, Peppers leaves a lot to be desired.
There he is as the box safety to the right side of the formation. Even making the right read he sees a left tackle coming and retreats. It’s hard to shake those bad habits.
His best bet
Peppers best bet is doing what he does best. Being an athlete. Avoiding on the fly. It’s what he needs to do. It keeps him in an aggressive mindset.
Above there he’s the linebacker to the top of the screen. Instead of waiting on the fullback he attacks and avoids on the fly. He just needs to finish in the rep above. There was a similar rep where he had the right tackle in space against Ohio State and he successfully made him miss.
Trusting what he sees
As a single high safety, I thought Peppers got caught in no man’s land too often. Not getting good jumps takes away from his speed. When he was at linebacker, as you saw above, he didn’t get a good jump after reading his keys. Against Penn State, there was a tight end screen in particular that stuck out to me.
Curtis Samuel & Ohio St WRs vs Jabril Peppers, Jourdan Lewis & a little Taco Charlton https://t.co/4fkU7vZNmX— KP (@KP_Show) February 3, 2017
Jump to about 2:15 in the video. That’s the difference between a top tier player and an athlete who is still learning the ropes.
What you’re getting
I have no idea. I’m not sure where you can feel comfortable putting Peppers. He’s too grabby to play man. I don’t trust his instincts to play on the weak-side of the formation. On the strong side, he’s going to shy away from contact or get bullied off the line. The flashes are so few and far between it’s hard to give him much credit for them. It’s rare that a player being lauded like he is as is Peppers doesn’t have a tangible on-field strength. It’s either versatility or special teams value.
I haven’t seen a player this ineffective at multiple positions in some time. I’d be leery of taking him anytime before day 3. That seems harsh, but athleticism can only take you so far. The Eric Weddle comps from Bucky Brooks hold zero weight. Both were fast coming out of college. That’s where it stops. If I had to guess, Peppers would be best suited in a “Patrick Chung” type role. I fear a team will ask him to be what he’s not, a box player.