Praise, accolades follow UM's Heisman hopeful Jabrill Peppers

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Jabrill Peppers poses with the Heisman Trophy Friday in New York.

Jabrill Peppers may not return to Ann Arbor with the ultimate individual prize in college football, the Heisman Trophy, but he has earned plenty of respect nationally for his versatility.

Peppers, Michigan’s do-everything standout who will decide whether to leave for the NFL after the Wolverines face Florida State in the Orange Bowl on Dec. 30, is one of five Heisman Trophy finalists attending Saturday night’s trophy presentation in New York.

He will be joined by Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, who won the Maxwell Award for the nation’s top player, and Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, winner of the Davey O’Brien national quarterback award, 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.

The Heisman likely will go to either Jackson or Watson, but Peppers won the Hornung Award this week given to the nation’s most versatile player.

Peppers has played 933 snaps and 15 positions this season for sixth-ranked Michigan. He’s a hybrid linebacker and had 726 plays on defense, 154 on special teams and 53 on offense.

Kiper ranks Jabrill Peppers No. 1 safety in draft

He is tied for second on the team with a career-best 72 tackles this season, including a team-leading 16 tackles for loss. He had four sacks, one interception and a forced fumble. Peppers is fourth nationally with 14.8 yards per punt return and scored a touchdown. He also has 10 kickoff returns for 260 yards. On offense, Peppers has 167 yards on 27 carries and scored three touchdowns. He also had two catches during the regular season.

After the ESPN Awards show Thursday night, Peppers was asked how many positions he will play in the bowl.

“Whatever it takes to win,” Peppers said.

During a conference call on Thursday, ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper raved about Peppers’ versatility, ranks him the No. 1 safety and said he will be a first-round selection by a team that can utilize that versatility.

As Michigan and Florida State prepare to face each other in the bowl game, FSU coach Jimbo Fisher has had nothing but high praise for Peppers. Fisher was well aware of Peppers when he was in high school at Paramus (N.J.) Catholic.

“He’s one of the unique guys that are physical enough to play where he does at the line of scrimmage, almost as a nickelback, like a linebacker, but can go play safety or corner,” said Fisher, whose Seminoles have faced Jackson and Watson this season. And to be able to run the jet sweeps and return the kicks and punts and the ball skills he has, he’s one of the very, very unique players in college football, there’s no doubt about that.

Michigan or draft? Jabrill Peppers won’t tip his hand

"He’s very deserving of everything he’s receiving reward-wise. And he’s led his team very well, too.”

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, who declared in October that Peppers should be a Heisman winner and said if there’s a better player in the country, he didn’t know who that was, said Peppers does anything on the field he’s asked to do.

“Whether it’s play safety or corner or nickel or linebacker or cornerback or slot receiver or running back, punt returner, kick returner,” said Harbaugh during an Orange Bowl news conference this week. “He does it all without hesitation, without flinching. And he does it to the best of his God-given ability every time.

"“He’s very deserving of everything he’s receiving reward-wise," Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher says.

“He’s the ultimate team player. His teammates appreciate him for that. And we’re really happy for his success.”

Maryland coach D.J. Durkin, who was Michigan’s defensive coordinator last season, was at the Lions' facility this week to promote the Quick Lane Bowl that the Terps are playing in against Boston College.

Durkin said Peppers has an enormous upside in the NFL and clearly has proven he’s one of the best in the college game.

“He plays receiver, quarterback, running back, linebacker safety, he played corner for us last year, and he was good at all of them,” Durkin said this week. “There’s not many guys, if any, that can do all those things. What are the criteria for Heisman? I don’t know. Is he one of the best players in college football? Yes. He certainly belongs there.”

Notable stats for Jabrill Peppers

Total snaps: 933 – 726 defense, 154 special teams, 53 offense

Tackles: 72

Tackles for loss: 16

QB hurries: 8

Punt return yards: 310 (1 TD)

Kick return yards: 260

Rush yards: 167 (3 TDs)