Why Jabrill Peppers isn’t an NFL Linebacker

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]There has been a lot of discussion over where Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers should play in the NFL. Some have envisioned a safety role for him, others view him as a linebacker. Peppers’s college film reveals traits that show he is poorly suited for a linebacker role in the pros. One major issue Peppers encounters is in the run game, where blockers cause him great difficulty.

Too often, Peppers gets knocked back on initial contact with a blocker. Furthermore, he is often blocked downfield. He is overly reliant on his athleticism to bypass blocks, rather than having a nuanced, developed move. He also demonstrates poor awareness of potential blocks, at times seeming surprised when someone tries to take him on. The slapping away of hands he tried was mainly ineffective, particularly against better opposition.

Perhaps Peppers’s worst game of the 2016 season came against the toughest opposition he faced; Ohio State. Below, Peppers is in the box. As he comes down and waits on the option, he sees the lineman late. He is punched back some distance by offensive tackle Jamarco Jones (#74). While Michigan’s defensive line manages to limit this play to a minimal gain, if the runner had managed to get to the second level the Wolverines would have been in trouble – with Peppers in no position to make the tackle.

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Against Wisconsin, Peppers was dominated downfield, blocked by tight end Eric Steffes (#44) for roughly 10 yards. He appears to appeal for a holding penalty, flinging his arms out wide as he is blocked off the field. Peppers allows his man to instigate contact and the tight end, with a running start, pushes him off the field. Peppers shows no real signs of disengaging, unless he were to run to the sideline. Essentially, the blocker has Peppers where he wants him. Peppers did not have his inside arm readily available to make the tackle. Against the sweep, Peppers is not the man responsible for outside contain, and the runner could have cut inside for a big gain if not for for safety Delano Hill’s (#44) tackle. In college, Peppers was able to rely on his speed to evade blockers and catch runners from behind. This is a move that will be less successful amongst NFL athletes.

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Advocates of Peppers at linebacker would perhaps point towards his size as an area to defend his underwhelming block shedding. While this does indeed limit his ability to shed blockers in the run game, it is not the sole factor. Peppers has no effective move, and no real keenness to engage blockers. Deone Bucannon, when coming out of Washington State, was violent against blockers and had moves to shed them. This was a large reason for the success of his transition from safety to moneybacker.

It is often said that some linebackers need to be kept ‘clean’ in the run game to be at their best. Peppers would have to be kept clean at all times to function as a linebacker, and that is not feasible. Not being able to deal with an oncoming blocker is a damning trait for his prospects as a linebacker. There are more, which you can find in the Inside the Pylon Draft Guide. Peppers will need to play some form of safety in the NFL.

This article was inspired by scouting work done for the Inside the Pylon Draft Guide. Matty scouted running backs, cornerbacks, and safeties for the guide. Order your copy today at ITPdraftguide.com.

Check out more of Matty’s work here, including a look at how Dalvin Cook’s combine confirmed the tapeOklahoma State using RPO’s in the redzone, and an interview with New Mexico DB Lee Crosby on his journey to the NFL.

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All film courtesy of Draftbreakdown.

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