The Cleveland Browns started off their 2017 NFL Draft, drafting most expert’s top prospect, edge rusher Myles Garrett. The Browns had the chance to pick at No. 12, but they decided to move down to No. 25 and pick up a 2018 first round pick. When the Browns second pick of the first round finally came around at No. 25, Cleveland chose do-it-all safety Jabrill Peppers.
Peppers was selected to fill one of the bigger holes on the defense, strong safety. At Michigan last season, Peppers posted 72 tackles, 16 tackles for a loss, four sacks, one forced fumble and one interception in 12 games. He was another highly productive player, with the high honor of being in the top five voting for the Heisman trophy last season.
So what can Browns fans expect from their new strong safety? Let’s take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of new Browns safety Jabrill Peppers.
Cleveland Browns Draft Film Room Series: Myles Garrett
Jabrill Peppers is an explosive athlete, which aids his entire game and playing style. These three plays show his athleticism. In the first play, he is lined up in coverage against the Rutgers receiver. But, Rutgers runs a zone read with the quarterback keeping the ball and running to the left edge. In the play, Peppers shows off his explosiveness, quickly closing on the quarterback to make a tackle for a loss.
The second play shows off Peppers’ speed. He is lined up on the left side of the field with the Oregon State run play going towards the right end of the line. The Oregon State running backs breaks through the line and is running free down field. Peppers is able to follow the runner through the hole and chase the back down from behind. His speed was on full display here.
Lastly, the third play shows his agility and speed as an athlete. On offense, Peppers catches the ball on the right flat. A Rutgers defender immediately meets him after the catch, but he is able to elude the tackler and continue down field. Peppers, then, uses his speed and agility to run through the defense and avoid the multiple tackling attempts. Peppers also showed off his athleticism at the NFL Combine, running a 4.46-second 40-yard dash and jumping 35.5 inches in the vertical and 128 inches in the broad jump. He is able to move quickly all over the field, changing directions on a dime and showing explosive speed, allowing him to perform multiple roles.
Jabrill Peppers’ best attribute is his versatility. Many focus his versatility on being able to play on offense and special teams, which is correctly focused, but his versatility is best in terms of the different roles he can play on defense. The clips above show his versatility. In the first clip, he is lined up in the box at the left linebacker spot. Ohio State runs a quarterback run to the left end of the line. Peppers reads the play well and fills the hole where J.T. Barrett was running, stopping the quarterback from advancing and taking him down with the help of some of his teammates.
In the second clip, Peppers is lined up in the middle of field, but is assigned to drop back into zone coverage. He is in charge of the middle of the field, where Dontre Wilson is running an inside sit down route. Wilson catches the ball in the open space underneath, but Peppers is able to explode to Wilson and stop him before making any more yards. He closed the gap between Wilson and himself extremely fast, making the first down conversion extremely close rather than easy conversion that looked to be happening with the play design.
The third play, Peppers is lined up in man coverage versus the Minnesota receiver. The receiver runs a slant route, but Peppers plays it well. The Michigan star changes direction fluidly with the receiver, staying on the hip of the receiver where he is able to make an athletic play on the ball to swat it away for an incompletion. These three plays show his versatility. He was assigned to stop the run from the box, play in zone coverage and cover man-to-man. He also has the ability to rush the passer. His athleticism allows him to be such a versatile player.
Jabrill Peppers gives the Browns an elite game-changing returner, both on punt and kick returns. The play above is just one example of his amazing returning ability. He catches the ball, and then shoots up field with his explosion and speed. He uses his strength to break through an arm tackle by a Colorado defender, giving him one man to beat. He uses his elusiveness and ability to change directions on a dime to leave the last defender behind him, racing the final way to the endzone. In his career at Michigan, he returned 18 kicks for 483 yards (26.8 yards per return) and 39 punts for 510 yards (13.1 yards per return) and one touchdown. He can be a game changer as a returner, flipping field position or even posting points on the board.
Jabrill Peppers is one of the most physical and better tacklers amongst the safeties who were drafted in the 2017 NFL Draft. These three plays portray this skillset. In the first play, Peppers is in zone coverage, reading the eyes of the quarterback. The Oregon State quarterback throws the ball to an open receiver on the sideline, but Peppers quickly explodes to the receiver, making a huge hit that causes the receiver to drop the ball. On the play, Peppers is lined up in man against the receiver out wide to the right. BYU runs a receiver screen to that side. Peppers is able to see the play happening, breaking off his receiver and exploding to the backfield where he immediately wraps up the receiver making the catch, causing a loss of yards. In the final play, Peppers once again shows off his explosive closing speed and physicality. He reads the Colorado play, seeing that it is going to be a toss to the left. Peppers breaks toward the ball carrier and lays a crushing hit on the Colorado runner, stopping him for another loss of yards. Peppers is a physical presence who can help set a tone for a defense and really make plays at the line of scrimmage both against the run and pass.
Jabrill Peppers also brings great leadership and a team-first attitude. He has the playing style and character to lead a defense and set a tone for the entire unit. One of the ways he shows leadership is his mindset to put the team first. At Michigan, coaches came to him before his junior season to ask him if he could play linebacker rather than his natural position, safety. Michigan needed him in the box. Peppers agreed to the move, knowing that it was best for the team. It was definitely not best for him, because he was going into his big junior season to show off for NFL draft evaluators. Playing out of position hurt evaluators’ chances of evaluating his talent. He was performing duties that were not something he would need to do in the NFL as a safety. But, Peppers was team-first, playing most of the season at linebacker.
At 5-foot-11, 213 pounds and 30 ¾-inch arms, Jabrill Peppers does not have the ideal size for a safety, especially with the playing style he plays with. Here are two plays to illustrate his size being a problem in certain situations. In the first play against Ohio State, Peppers is lined up in man off-man coverage against tight end Marcus Baugh. Baugh is running a post route about ten yards downfield. At the top of the route, Baugh cuts inside and uses his size to box out Peppers. Peppers did not have the length to get around Baugh, allowing the pass to be completed. On the second play, Iowa is running a toss to the left, where Peppers is lined up on the left edge at linebacker. Peppers gets blocked down by the Iowa receiver on the outside of him. The Michigan star struggles to get away from the block of the receiver, getting pushed out of the play even after he gets back into a square position with the receiver. Peppers size can hurt his ability to be a run defender at the line of scrimmage. If he is facing contact, he can struggle to get free quickly, getting stuck on blocks. In the passing game, bigger receivers and tight ends could be a hard assignment for Peppers because of his lack of length and height to match up with them.
Jabrill Peppers can struggle with his ball skills, as you can see from the two plays above. In the first play, Peppers is in zone coverage underneath. The Northwestern quarterback tries to throw the ball to the receiver on the left sideline. But, he does not see Peppers underneath. The throw is right at Peppers, but he fails to catch it, letting it bounce off his hands for just an incompletion. In the second play, Peppers makes a great read on the Minnesota receiver screen play. He instantly reacts to the pass, getting right in front of the receiver and in line to make an easy interception. But, Peppers drops the pass that could have been an easy pick six. Peppers had only one interception in his career. His ball skills could hurt his ability to be a turnover producer and playmaker in the secondary.
Instincts/Experience/Technique in Coverage
One of the areas Jabrill Peppers must improve upon is overall ability in coverage, both in man and zone coverage. The plays above are two examples of some struggles he has in coverage. In the first play against Penn State, Peppers is lined up in single press-man coverage against the receiver on the right sideline. Peppers is stride for stride with the receiver, but when he reaches the top of the route he loses track of the ball and the receiver. He looks back at the ball, but he does not locate the underthrown pass. He also loses his man, overrunning the receiver and allowing an easy touchdown.
In the second play versus Minnesota, Peppers is lined up against the tight end in man coverage. Minnesota runs a play action pass. Peppers is faked out by the run fake for a second which gives the tight end just enough time to get past him. The Michigan defender then tries to get back into position, but never turns around to defend the ball, once again losing track of his man and the ball, allowing a completion by the tight end. Peppers can improve this area with more time because he just did not have a lot of opportunities to do it in college, especially last season. His instincts are not great, especially in zone coverage, focusing more on the quarterback than the route of the receiver. Experience can help him improve in this area.