UM’s Peppers calls himself NFL Draft ‘steal’

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Jabrill Peppers is more than aware what NFL Draft analysts have been saying about him, that there are suggestions NFL teams don’t know where he will fit in their defenses, and that playing all those positions at Michigan hurt him.

Peppers, who won the Hornung Award last fall as college football’s most versatile player, doesn’t care.

“Some coaches see me as a safety, and they love me, some don’t,” Pepper said Friday after Michigan’s Pro Day. “To each his own. I’m just a guy who’s going to go out there and I’m going to ball. All I need is an opportunity. Whenever the opportunity comes, it comes. I’m not going to piss my opportunity away.

“I don’t really pay attention to the positivity or the negativity. I feel as though whatever team gets me is going to be a steal. I don’t really care about what the draft experts have to say. My only concern is what these GMs and head coaches think about me. I just need the opportunity, that’s it. It is what it is — I didn’t play safety, but I’m gonna be a safety. I’m going to prove myself.”

Peppers played 15 positions at Michigan last fall, including offense, he returned kicks, and was listed as a linebacker. He said at the NFL Combine that he’s a safety, but draft analysts say teams are having a tough time figuring out where he fits.

ESPN NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper in his most recent mock draft has Peppers going to Dallas in the first round with pick No. 28. His ESPN colleague Todd McShay did not have Peppers as a first-round selection in his most recent draft projections. Kiper thinks Pepper could be the type of “splash pick” Dallas owner Jerry Jones likes to make.

“I think Peppers is a late one, early two (pick),” Kiper told The Detroit News. “He’ll be a great return man right away in the NFL. A creative defensive coordinator will look at his skill set and say, ‘Hey, I can make this kid into a heck of a safety in my defense.’ I think in the right situation with the right defensive coordinator that knows how to use him and believes in him and takes advantage of all that talent, he can be a really good player.”

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Kiper said if Peppers isn’t selected in the late first round, he will probably be chosen in the 33-45 overall range in the second. The challenge for teams, he said, has been figuring out Peppers’ fit.

“That’s been the problem all along,” Kiper said. “I think the versatility at Michigan was great, but the versatility hurt him as a pro prospect a bit because he never defined a position and never really stuck to one spot. He was so athletic and so versatile, it forced him to play on both sides of the ball and in the return game, but he never defined that one spot to let people know, here’s what I can do.

“Now you have to project him. Anytime you have to project, there’s a bit of a concern because it’s kind of a mystery — you don’t really know for sure. If you get him late first early second, you’re getting a guy at that point who presents an awful lot of value because you know you’re going to get a great return man. If you coach him up and get him in the right situation then he could be a really good defensive player. Having only one career interception certainly Is another factor against him as a safety. But at the end of the day, if he’s a late-first-round pick or early second, I don’t think anyone would have a problem taking him at that point.”

Peppers, who said only one NFL team has talked to him about playing linebacker and one has talked to him about playing offense, does not take exception to those who question his ability at safety.

“Those are all fair questions because I don’t have much tape at safety,” he said Friday. “But at the end of the day, some reasonings for me not being able to play safety are mind-blowing. I feel as though if I’m punt returning, I can track the ball. It’s just going up and getting it at the highest point instead of letting in fall in the bread basket.

“The one-interception thing, that’s a fair question. I could have had maybe four, at most. One was due to bad positioning, didn’t get my head around fast. The one I dropped against Northwestern and JD (Jourdan Lewis) caught one the next play and took it to the house. And then the one, I could have had one in Utah my first game back from injury against the tight end. Didn’t get my head around and it was a pass interference call. It’s about relaxing. Don’t panic when the ball is in the air and just trust your technique. Technique is something I’m honing in on now. But those are all fair questions. At the end of the day, I’m an athlete, I’m a ballplayer. I only need to see something one time to be able to do it, and the rest is just trusting your technique and honing in on your skill.”

Curiously, he referred to himself as a “steal.” If teams can get past the variety of positions he played last fall and understand he can zone in and play safety, that’s how he figures they will get a steal in the draft.

“A lot of people are downplaying me as a football player because I don’t have a true position, but in a sense I was just a guy doing whatever I can to help a team win, whatever my coached asked of me,” Peppers said. “If I’m getting punished because of that, so be it. I would do it all over again if I had to, because I’m a winner.

“If that’s what I had to do to win, that’s what I had to do. I didn’t think it would affect my draft stock. I don’t buy into all the … I’ve constantly heard, the jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none thing. You can believe that. We’re going to see. Everyone has to show themselves to play on Sundays.”

Peppers said that talk isn’t annoying.

“It makes me smirk a little bit, because they don’t know,” he said. “It just is what it is. I’m not really beating myself up about it.”