Mayock: No label fits UM’s do-everything Peppers

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

There has been considerable hand-wringing when it comes to determining Jabrill Peppers’ role in the NFL and where he might be drafted.

Peppers, the former multi-position player for the Wolverines and the Hornung Award winner as the most versatile player in college football last season, will participate in this week’s NFL Combine in Indianapolis along with 13 of his Michigan teammates. He is listed as a linebacker, but most analysts think safety is where he fits.

“The biggest compliment is he’s a football player,” NFL Network’s Mike Mayock said Monday during a conference call. “That sounds stupid, but he is. I don’t think you put a label on Jabrill Peppers.

“He was asked to do a bunch of different things at Michigan, and he did them at a high level. And I think what’s going to happen when we get to the combine, you’re going to see this explosive athlete running around. And I think while coaches get involved, along with the personnel guys, the key with a guy like him is defining how you want to use him when you draft him.”

Many of the mock drafts for the late April draft have Peppers slipping to a late first-round spot. The biggest reason why is the fact he has to fit with the right team who knows how to use a player with his skill set.

“If you’re going to put a first-round grade on Jabrill Peppers there has to be a marriage between the personnel side and the coaching side as to how you’re going to develop this young player,” Mayock said. “The kid was a punt returner, he’s been a deep safety, he’s been a box safety, he’s been a linebacker. Each team is going to look at him differently, but at the end of the day, to me, he’s a first-round draft pick but you better have a plan for how you’re going to use him.”

Peppers is listed among the linebackers at the combine because, Mayock said, that was his listed college position.

“At this size at 210 or 205, whatever, I think he’s going to have to be more of a safety and less of a linebacker,” he said.

Last fall, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said he thought Peppers, a track athlete as well in high school, would run the 40 at the combine in the 4.3s. Mayock said Peppers’ speed will be closely watched this week, as will his performance in individual drills.

“I think (teams) want to see two things,” Mayock said. “No. 1, he’s going to run fast. He’s got a track background. I think he can shed the skin of the linebacker and go run in the 4.3s. Even if he ran 4.45, whatever, run sub-4.5, run fast, and then I think when you get into the drills you want to show you have a defensive back’s skill set.

“Open your hips, drive. He hasn’t driven to a deep outside, or a deep middle or a deep because he’s been playing linebacker. The more he can do is show people he can be a starting safety Day 1 and also be a dime linebacker. The kid is always around the football, but I think where he can help himself is a) run fast and b) show some hip flexibility driving to deep outside, deep middle.”