When the Cleveland Browns drafted Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers in the first round of the NFL Draft last April, the team immediately began to rave about the safety’s versatility. He can be a safety or linebacker on defense and a returner on special teams. Although it seems like a small part of the game, special teams is very important and is one that has cost the Browns many games over the last few seasons. If a team has a good returner for both kickoffs and punts, it sets up the offense quite well and changes the field position the entire game.
During his short time in OTAs, Peppers has impressed the coaching staff enough that some have compared him to former Browns legend Josh Cribbs, who is arguably the best return man in team history.
Here’s what special teams coordinator said about his newest return man, per ohio.com’s Nate Ulrich.
“The way [Peppers is] built, he kind of reminds me a little bit in the Cribbsy mold. He has some thickness to him. If you look at our past returners, even when I was in Chicago with Devin [Hester], Devin was a little slighter guy. Travis was a really slight guy.
“[Peppers is] a mix of more of a Cribbsy and can go north-south. But I thought he had good vision coming out, and you could see it on a lot of plays where he could just create on his own, and I think those are good traits in a returner.”
For those that may have forgotten, Cribbs was a three-time Pro Bowler, mainly because of what he did on special teams. The former Kent State Golden Flasher averaged 11 yards per punt return and 25.9 yards per kick return during his 8-year stint in Cleveland from 2005-12.
Along with his ability to suit up at a number of different positions defensively, if Peppers can also be a good returner for the Browns, the rookie’s impact will be seen by many. Add in the fact that he could also be the team’s wildcat quarterback at times as well.
In 2016, the Browns averaged 6.7 yards per punt return (26th in the NFL) and just 18.6 yards per punt return (tied for 28th). They struggled so much trying to return punts that the team used five different players – Duke Johnson, Mario Alford, Jordan Poyer, Joe Haden, and Tramon Williams – to try and get a spark in the return game last season. To say that Peppers can make an immediate impact on multiple sides of the ball would be an understatement. Tabor is excited to see what the rookie will do on special teams.
“I’m excited about Jabrill returning. Obviously, I thought he was electric in college as a playmaker. It’s a matter of helping us get our return game to where it’s supposed to be, where the Cleveland Browns are supposed to be returning the ball, and hopefully we can get to that. We still have a lot of work to do, but I think we can get there.”
During his time at Michigan, Peppers averaged 13.1 yards on 39 punt returns, including one touchdown, and 26.8 yards on 18 kick returns while earning the Big Ten Return Specialist of the Year award. He not only proved the type of impact player he can be as a Wolverine, but the rookie is confident he can do the same at the NFL level.
We already know the impact Peppers can make on defense because of his versatility, but he may be just as impactful on special teams as well. If he’s anything like Cribbs, the former Michigan standout will be an instant fan favorite in the Dawg Pound.