Michigan's Jabrill Peppers among Heisman finalists

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Michigan’s versatile Jabrill Peppers will be heading to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist.

Peppers will be joined Saturday at the Heisman ceremony by Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and Baker Mayfield and Dede Westbrook from Oklahoma. Peppers is the only primarily defensive player among the five, although he returns kicks and also plays offense.

“We need defensive players in this,” Charles Woodson said on ESPN after the announcement Monday night. Woodson, who helped lead Michigan to a national championship in 1997, won the Heisman Trophy that season becoming the first primarily defensive player to win. “Defense wins championships.”

There hasn’t been one since Woodson.

Woodson was joined by ESPN analyst Desmond Howard, the 1991 Heisman Trophy winner from Michigan, in making the announcement of the finalists.

Peppers last week was voted the Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Year, the Big Ten’s Linebacker and Specialist of the Year, as well. He is a Walter Camp finalist for the Player of the Year.

This season he has 72 tackles for the 10-2 Wolverines who are headed to the Orange Bowl on Dec. 30 to face Florida State. He has 16 tackles for loss and is averaging 14.8 yards a punt return, ranking him fourth nationally. He also rushed for 167 yards on 27 carries and scored three touchdowns. He had his first career interception in the regular-season finale at Ohio State.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh drew the Heisman spotlight to Peppers after the Rutgers game this season.

“Gosh, if there’s a better player in the country, I don’t know who it is,” Harbaugh said at the time. “I know there’s a lot of great players out there, but to be able to coach a guy like Jabrill Peppers is a real joy.”