Position flexibility is generally lauded in team sports. Coaches and fans tend to endear themselves to a player who can provide value from different locations on the field or court. The flexibility creates opportunities for those around them, and it naturally contributes to higher team success. In practical application, consider any person in a workplace who can do multiple jobs well – those are the people who have job security, and those are the people a company values most. To be able to play multiple positions at an elite level is a skill that few possess and is rarely found, but when it is, often everyone involved benefits.
In the Cleveland sports realm, outside of LeBron James, the name most synonymous with the phrase “position flexibility” is Jose Ramirez. Ramirez provides flexibility to the Indians organization in multiple ways. He has proven his worth from both sides of the plate in 2017, hitting .307 with 17HR with 41RBI from the left side and .318 with 8HR with 27RBI from the right side. However, what helped him garner his original call-up, and eventually break into a role as an every day starter, was his ability to provide defensive flexibility.
Over the last three years, Ramirez has successfully played shortstop, second base, third base, and left field. Spending the majority of his time at shortstop in 2015, he retreated to Columbus upon Francisco Lindor’s initial call-up, and instead of complacency and mistrust happening, he mastered his craft in other locations to prove his value to the organization. That value appeared tenfold in 2016 as Ramirez became the ideal left fielder to replace Michael Brantley until a shift to third base was needed in the middle of the summer – needless to say Ramirez thrived there as well. When looking back on 2016 his parallel replacement of Brantley, both as a fielder and hitter, doesn’t get praised enough.
Ramirez has again shown that value in 2017, as his bat has taken off to an MVP-level while his defense between third and second base has remained well above replacement-level. He can play multiple positions with a moment’s notice when Terry Francona needs him; all while hitting like a Top 5 talent in the American League. When the Indians need a clutch hit (despite his 2017 high-leverage numbers), Ramirez can be trusted. They need a bunt, they need someone to stop a hard hit ball, someone to steal a base, Ramirez can be trusted. Moral of the story is his versatility leads to this overwhelming fact: I trust Jose. The organization trusts Jose. That says something on a team jam packed with talent.
This concept brings us to the next position flexibility hope for the Cleveland sports scene: Jabrill Peppers. Early in his time in Cleveland, Peppers reminds me of Ramirez on many levels, but those factors outside of their sport are what I find myself focusing on. Sure, their stature and build are much the same, but I am more drawn to their moxie and bravado which are palpable when they speak to the camera. Each carries with them a sense of pride in their craft and an arrogance that is self-assuring, demanding and intimidating all at once.
Peppers flexibility at Michigan is well-documented. He notoriously played 11 different positions for the Wolverines, sometimes within a single game, and each of them he did fairly well. Despite the understandable Buckeye State hesitancy with his selection, deep down Browns fans knew he could be someone they can support. Players of the versatile mold, ie. Tyrann Mathieu, can be a game changer for a defense. Peppers has those capabilities. His comments to Browns.com after being drafted portray the traits of a player Browns fans will fall in love. “I’m a tenacious defender. I’m a guy who’s a competitor. I’m going to out-compete and out-challenge,” he said. “That’s what I am going to continue and want to continue to do once I get to the league. People can speculate on what they want to speculate on, but at the end, of the day I’m a ball player.”
He is willing to do whatever is asked and lineup anywhere it is deemed necessary. He will play slot corner chasing agile receivers from sideline to sideline. He will blitz from a linebacker spot and use his gift of impeccable pursuit angles and knack for finding the football. He will cover as a safety where perhaps he will be needed most, and he will play solo coverage against tight ends down the seams. He is the type of defender that can be tasked with any of three key responsibilities per play and can be trusted to accomplish any of them. Gregg Williams will use Peppers to make his plans work around the athleticism provided up front. He can trust Peppers to accomplish more out of the ordinary tasks that contain a higher degree of difficulty than others. In doing so, it allows others to focus on their singular position, and excel at their most important task. Defensive players who can accomplish the three tasks of covering, blitzing and tackling always have a place on the field, and if a player can excel at all three they’re indispensable. Throw in Peppers kick return abilities and you have a highly valuable player.
Peppers will start at free safety on Sunday in Week 1 against the Steelers, but expect his position count to be all over the place. He will return both punts and kicks, so Peppers will be key right from the jump in his tenure in Cleveland. The Browns are planning to see big things from Jabrill Peppers, and it’s realistic to see him providing that same valuable position flexibility in Cleveland the way he did throughout his time at Michigan.
Cleveland sports fans are naturally drawn to those who value team over self. They are drawn to players who show up to work every day with their lunch pail. These fans want players who are committed to the name on the front more than the name on the back. Clichés aside, Cleveland fans just want to win – nothing more; nothing less. Jose Ramirez is providing that for the Indians through his overwhelming versatility. Much like Ramirez, Peppers has the ability to do it for the Cleveland Browns.
Other 2017 Cleveland Browns preview articles at WFNY
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- HBT guide to team building
- Isaiah Crowell: Top 5 All-Time Cleveland Browns running back within reach?
- Duke Johnson: Swiss-army knife
- Bucking bad rushing game trends
- Does starting young quarterbacks early ruin them?
- Predicting the 53-man roster
- Myles Garrett; NFL’s most interesting man
- Why four quarterbacks?