Cleveland Browns bowl watch: Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers
The Cleveland Browns will look to continue their rebuilding efforts during the 2017 NFL Draft. Could Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers be on the team’s radar?
There is only one week remaining in the 2016 NFL regular season and the Cleveland Browns still do not know their final draft position.
This much we do know: the Browns are guaranteed to pick no worse than No. 2 overall in the 2017 NFL Draft and they hold a second first-round pick courtesy of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Where those picks fall will not be determined until after the final week of the season. If the Browns lose to the Pittsburgh Steelers, or win and then hope the San Francisco 49ers upset the Seattle Seahawks, then the Browns will lead off the draft with the first overall selection.
As for the second pick in the first round, the Browns would currently pick at No. 10. But to hold onto that spot they need the Eagles to lose their final game to the Dallas Cowboys, who have already clinched home-field advantage for the NFC playoffs.
Since draft talk is always welcome in Cleveland, and bowl season is in full swing, this is a great time to get one last look at some draft prospects at positions of need for the Browns in game action.
The situation at safety has grown so dire for the Browns this year that they have resorted to playing 33-year-old cornerback Tramon Williams at the position.
One solution could come in the form of Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers, the Wolverines’ Mr. Everything who was the Big 10 Defensive Player of the Year, Linebacker of the Year and Return Specialist of the Year.
While he played all over the field for Michigan, at just 205 pounds Peppers is best suited for the strong safety position in the NFL. And while he is lauded for his athleticism and versatility, he is a bit of a mixed bag, according to Pro Football Focus:
Peppers … best role, though, may be pure strong safety at the next level. Peppers does his best work when finding the ball carriers as the extra man in the box, while also showing the ability to cover tight ends down the field.
While his elite athleticism and ability as a returner is blindingly apparent every time he steps on the field, his play on the back end has been less than stellar. When targeted in coverage this season, he has yielded receptions on 20 of 26 targets and does not have a single pass defended when he is the primary defender. He also lacks the size to consistently take on and shed blocks going forward, as the majority of his impact plays this year have come when he has been unblocked. Teams considering him will need sell themselves on the idea that his coverage struggles could be due to his hybrid role, but it may be difficult for some to come to terms with the thought that he may be a two-down player at the next level.
With two picks that should be in the top 10 of the first round, the Browns may not have the luxury of selecting someone who may only be a “two-down player” on Sundays.
On the other hand, Peppers has the type of attitude that is appealing to what head coach Hue Jackson is trying to build within the locker room and on the practice field.
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“You take a guy who was a Heisman candidate, all this hype, that he wouldn’t go out and practice the way he does, but every single day he practices like he’s a walk-on freshman, so it’s pretty impressive,” Michigan linebackers coach Ben Gedeon told The Sun Sentinel this week. “Everything he does looks so effortless, though, so you can’t really tell because he’s such a smooth athlete.
“The way he goes about his business and the enthusiasm he has towards it is special.”
A redshirt sophomore, Peppers has not declared for the 2017 NFL Draft but if he does it could be easy to see the Browns being intrigued by his versatility and ability. Especially if what an anonymous scout told MMQB turns out to be true:
“He can do everything. He can blitz, he can drop back, he can match up against a slot guy in man [coverage]. His closing speed is something. And of course you can use him as a returner.
“He’s special, he has great instincts. He’s not going to fit every scheme for every team but coordinators willing to be creative will be rewarded. I’d love to use him blitzing off the edge. I know the knock on him [that he doesn’t have a natural position], but he’s going to produce at the next level. First-round talent.”
Michigan will be in action on Dec. 30 at 8 p.m. when they take on Florida State in the Orange Bowl.