MADISON, Wis. — “He’s got to be the best player in college football right now,” Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst said in his Monday press conference about Michigan junior Jabrill Peppers.
This Saturday when Wisconsin heads to Ann Arbor to play #4 ranked Michigan, the team will face Peppers, a 6-foot-1, 205-pound linebacker/safety who can also play offense and special teams—a triple threat for an already high-ranked team in the Big Ten.
“There’s two things when I think about him. One is there aren’t a lot of players that can impact the game in all three phases like he does,” Chryst said. “Then when you watch him, he does a lot of the little things that are reserved for when you specialize in it.”
Chryst emphasized the New Jersey native’s knowledge and awareness of the game, which makes him a unique football player.
After playing running back and defensive back first at Don Bosco Preparatory High School in Ramsey, N.J. and then Paramus High School in Paramus, N.J. (four-time NJSIAA Group 4 state champions), Peppers committed to Michigan on Dec. 14, 2013.
In his freshman season at Michigan, Peppers saw the field only three times with one start. 2015 was a breakout season for the multi-purpose football player. While he was listed as a defensive back, he also contributed to the special teams and offense, including a career-best three receptions against Indiana.
In his sophomore season, Peppers recorded eight receptions for 79 yards, 72 yards rushing, 223 yards on eight kick returns and 45 tackles including 5.5 tackles for a loss, earning him the 2015 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, First Team All-Big Ten Defensive honors, All-America second team honors and FWAA (Football Writers Association of America) All-American.
Though only four games into the season, Peppers already has 24 rushing yards, 33 tackles and 81 yards on two kick returns.
Peppers boasts for his most recent stats in his collegiate career: 86 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 15 tackles for a loss, 79 receiving yards, 96 rushing yards with two touchdowns, 304 yards on kick returns and 427 yards on punt returns.
“He’s made it clear that he wants to do as much as possible. That isn’t a question, and there’s no question that all our coaches—special teams, offense and defense—they’re like a bull pawing at the ground. They want Jabrill involved,” Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh said in his weekly press conference on Monday.
According to Harbaugh, Peppers excels at picking up new plays, new schemes and even new positions with almost surreal ease.
“You give him something new, for example, whether it’s an offensive snap, and you know he hasn’t done it before, then goes out in practice and everybody just looks, like, nobody’s done it that well,” Harbaugh reflected. “Guys who play that position don’t do it that well, and now with him we just look at each other. Players will look to other players or players to me or me to other players. We just go, ‘he’s really good at football.'”
Most simply put, Harbaugh said of the star player who is already ranked by Sports Illustrated’s Chris Burke as #5 in the 2017 NFL Draft, “He’s a football player. Jabrill Peppers is really good at football.”
Wisconsin will have to focus on Peppers’ role on the team, not with one position but potentially two, three or four. Peppers continually makes a significant impact on the defense, which a young quarterback in Alex Hornibrook will have to be alert for.
That being said, Wisconsin’s special teams will have to prepare for Peppers as he is able to produce on kickoff and punt returns, and in matchups such as Wisconsin and Michigan, field position may be all the difference between a win and a loss this weekend in Ann Arbor.
Photo Courtesy of The Michigan Daily.