There’s no doubt that Jabrill Peppers is one of the premiere athletes in all of college football and he will be rewarded when his name is called by Roger Goodell in the upcoming spring. The former 5-star recruit has absolutely lived up to his expectations: he has played safety, linebacker, cornerback, running back, receiver, punt returner, Wildcat quarterback and kick returner, and has made an impact in all of those areas.
Sure, he has yet to record an interception during his career -- something that he is constantly ribbed about by opposing fans — but he makes plays in other ways. When watching him on film, it’s easy to see why he is highly touted and why scouts adore him; his athleticism and instincts are off the chart. The maize and blue No. 5 jersey looks like a blur as he flies around the field, never takes a play off and is constantly around the football.
But if there is one way to attack Jabrill Peppers, it is just that. Attack him. Use his athleticism and play making ability against him. He has an extreme tendency to look for the big play or the big hit by not reading his keys, guessing the hole, overrunning plays or by not setting the edge. He tends to freelance and do his own thing outside of the defense, which sometimes puts his team into a bad situation -- but he’s constantly bailed out due to the talent surrounding him on defense.
On this play, Peppers is lined up as a free safety. With Iowa clearly showing a running play, Peppers reads the run right away. Being the last line of defense, his job is to quickly read the play and fill the hole if he can. Instead, he guesses the wrong hole outside — running around blockers — leaving the cut-back lane open. The running back sees the crease in the defense that Peppers created and cuts back. Luckily, the Will linebacker makes the tackle, or else it would have been a sprint to the end zone. If that’s Curtis Samuel with the ball, he’s gone.
Here, No. 5 is playing outside linebacker. Michigan has the numbers advantage on defense, leaving a defender unblocked — which happened to be Peppers. Iowa runs a basic dive play and Peppers’ instincts allow him to meet the running back in the hole. Instead of coming in at an angle, he overruns the play, leaving the outside completely barren. The running back makes a small cut on Peppers and bounces the play outside, running for a big gain on first down.
Iowa is running a basic off-tackle play, which involves the tackle and tight end down blocking, while the fullback attempts to kick-out Peppers.
Instead of doing his job by setting the edge on the fullback and taking up a blocker, he decides to show his strength by blindsiding the tight end — thus taking himself out of the play. Because of Peppers, the fullback just has to kick-out No. 44 and the running back would have a one-on-one opportunity with the safety. Luckily, No. 44 makes a hell of a play by cutting the fullback at the line of scrimmage, which results in no gain. Another highly dangerous play by Peppers that is covered up by the defensive talent around him.
Against Iowa, Michigan decided to deploy Peppers as a QB Spy on CJ Beathard on obvious passing situations. This is where Peppers is his best. He’s allowed to roam and make plays based on his own instincts. Peppers senses that no one is open downfield, flies through the gap and pressures Beathard into an incomplete pass. It should not surprise anyone if Don Brown uses Peppers as a QB Spy on third down against J.T. Barrett. It would limit the drive-extending quarterback scrambles that Barrett does so well.
Jabrill Peppers has bounced around positions throughout his Michigan career and currently lines up mostly at outside linebacker. If I were to take a guess, this is probably the first time he’s ever played this position -- and it shows, a lot. Yes, he will always be the best athlete in the front-seven, but he’s undersized (6’1”, 205 lbs) and is extremely raw. Peppers will be viewed as an in-the-box strong safety at the next level — in the mold of Deone Bucannon. Not as an athletic outside linebacker — in the mold of Myles Jack or Darron Lee.
No. 5’s inability to set the edge as an outside linebacker, coupled with his over-aggressiveness, should stand out when the Ohio State coaches are breaking him down. Expect the Buckeyes to run misdirection at him and run outside zone his direction. He will make a couple of highlight plays, but he should be more of a liability against Ohio State’s combination of run blocking and speed.
If Jabrill Peppers wants to guess the hole against Curtis Samuel, he’ll make him pay.