Do The Packers Need Jabrill Peppers?
He plays like a linebacker, runs like a safety, returns kicks like Gale Sayers, and cameos at three offensive positions. Jabrill Peppers is undeniably a good football player. But is he a football player the Packers need?
Peppers deserves every bit of the attention he’s gotten so far in the pre-draft process; he was a very, very good college football player. Jim Harbaugh is no dummy, and he wouldn’t have lined Peppers up all over the field if he didn’t think it was worth his while.
However, the jack-of-all-trades designation cuts both ways. Just ask Micah Hyde.
Peppers, like a more athletic version of Hyde, does many things well but is not exceptional in any one area, with the possible exception of returning kicks.
His college stats reflect this reality: though he was always on the field at a variety of playmaking positions, he didn’t make splash plays that often, or at all, really. Over three college seasons, Peppers recorded just three sacks, one interception, and eleven passes defended.
Respectable, sure, but not elite.
The same goes for his overall athleticism. Though his combine numbers are certainly very respectable, he doesn’t touch the upper echelon of his position group in any one measure.
Despite limits, Peppers has the makeup of a great safety
But therein lies the conflict. Though his numbers don’t immediately shout “elite athlete,” some evaluators look at his body of work and identify a great player.
Tony Pauline told Blue 58 that Peppers is in fact “a superior athlete.”
“He just does so many things well,” Pauline went on to say. “Jabrill Peppers is a combination of a really good athlete and a really good football player, I just don’t know whether he’s going to be a linebacker or a safety. I think he’s going to be a safety.”
Peppers, for what it’s worth, agrees with Pauline. “I’m a safety,” he told ESPN. “I don't have a lot of tape at safety, but I'm a pretty damn good safety. I think a lot of teams notice that. They have the tape.”
What is the tape showing? Scouts tend to agree that Peppers is well-suited to a hybrid safety sort of role, and 2016 first round pick Keanu Neal could provide a perfect blueprint for the eventual path for Peppers.
Neal is slightly taller, but is a bit lighter and ran slower at the Combine. Outside of that, though, Neal and Peppers are similar athletically. Neal, however, played defensive back for the duration of his college career, a significant advantage over Peppers.
That’s likely the reason Neal ended up near the middle of the first round, while Peppers may be a second round pick.
Are the Packers and Peppers a match?
As far as the Packers are concerned, Peppers may be a fit, but just like a real estate acquisition, the selection comes down to location, location, location.
With so many needs on defense, it’s hard to justify taking a player without a defined position. If he’s purely a safety, he probably wouldn’t see the field ahead of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or Morgan Burnett, except in sub packages.
If he’s purely a linebacker, it’s unlikely he’d be strong enough against the run to supplant either Jake Ryan or Blake Martinez, whatever limitations those two may have.
With those considerations in mind, it’s hard to picture Peppers coming to Green Bay with the 29th pick.
However, if Peppers is available at 61, the equation changes entirely. If the Packers can address a more glaring need in the first round, picking a player with the playmaking potential and versatility late in the second round would be just about perfect.
The only question is whether or not Peppers will still be there.