Houston – Jabrill Peppers was one of the most versatile players in college football last season, and as he prepares for the NFL draft, analysts are scrambling to come up with an apt comparison for the former Michigan standout.
Will Peppers be a safety at the next level? A cornerback? Maybe a linebacker?
New England Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan has a comparison and it's one that hasn’t been made often, if at all. He sees a lot of teammate Patrick Chung in Peppers. This isn’t some random thought. Ryan, a New Jersey native who played for Rutgers, has closely followed Peppers' career and called him the best football player the state has ever produced.
That’s not to say Chung and Peppers have identical frames or physical profiles. Chung, at 5-foot-11, 211 pounds is more compact and probably a little stronger, while the ultra-athletic Peppers is poised to impress at the scouting combine in a month. But in terms of sheer versatility, the similarities are definitely there.
“He’s a versatile piece that makes us go,” Ryan said about Chung. “We all have to be versatile, but he’s the one they ask to do the most and he just takes it in stride. He does it extremely well. He’s not the one to say it, but I watch that kid out of Jersey, Jabrill Peppers, and I’m like, ‘Pat, you’re doing the same thing at this level. Doing some safety, some linebacker stuff, coverage stuff, he catches punts.’ Pat is an extremely good athlete. He doesn’t get a lot of credit for that.”
Versatility is an old hat for Chung, the 34th pick in the 2009 draft out of Oregon. In college he played rover, which required him to line up deep like a safety, in the box like a linebacker and occasionally along the line of scrimmage like a defensive end.
Chung also played on every special teams unit for Oregon, including handling kickoffs and punts.
And while Chung said he doesn’t watch much college football, he knows of Peppers and appreciates the comparison offered by Ryan.
“The more you can do, man,” Chung said. “It’s hard to explain why I’m so versatile, I just go out there and do it. I just have a mentality that if Bill (Belichick) tells me to do something, I’m just going to do out there and do it."
Few organizations value versatility more than the Patriots. You can see it throughout their roster, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. All the moving parts, pieced together by coordinator Matt Patricia, helped the unit hold opponents to a league-low 15.6 points per game this season.
While it’s unclear where Peppers will go in the draft, it seems unlikely he’ll fall to the bottom of the first round where the Patriots will be selecting. Still, it’s fair to say the Michigan defensive back would be an ideal fit for the organization.
“(Versatility) is definitely a must for our team because we don’t ask you to do one thing,” Ryan said. “The more that you can do the more valuable you are. That just helps you in the NFL in general to play in this league.
"The league is changing in what offenses are doing, the amount of receivers, so guys have to be able to cover all positions. If you can cover multiple positions, be a versatile defensive back, I think that’s what the league is trending toward.”