The Cleveland Browns traded down from the 12th pick in the 2017 NFL Draft to 25th and selected Jabrill Peppers from the University of Michigan. Along with the 25th pick, the Browns received Houston’s first round pick in 2018 to continue stockpiling picks.
Opinions on Peppers vary in NFL circles. Some see him as a ball-hawking safety similar to Troy Polamalu. He is extremely athletic and has great instincts. He is one of the fastest defensive players in this year’s draft class, running a 4.46 at the NFL Combine. His tackling is stellar – he hits hard and has good technique. He is passionate about the game of football. And by all accounts, he is excellent in the locker room and in the community, having won the Lott IMPACT (Integrity, Maturity, Performance, Academics, Community and Tenacity) Trophy for the nation’s most outstanding defensive player who also possesses high character off the field.
All those characteristics are why many presumed the Pittsburgh Steelers were poised to take Peppers a few picks later, to replace the aforementioned Polamalu, who retired two seasons ago. This likely made Browns fans feel a little better about not only upgrading their defense, but prohibiting their biggest rival from doing so themselves.
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Others see Peppers as a “tweener” without a true position in the NFL. His coverage skills have been questioned, he is seen as not quite big enough to play linebacker, and despite all his ability he did not create many turnovers at Michigan. Most of his play-making ability was seen on special teams, as he was one of the best kick and punt returners in college football when given the opportunity.
After drafting Peppers, coach Hue Jackson said he sees him as a strong safety. This seems to be the best fit for Peppers, as he will be lined up closer to the line of scrimmage and be able to help the Browns’ porous run defense (31st in the NFL last year). Jackson also spoke highly of Peppers’ ability to help the Browns on special teams, so he will likely get a chance to return kicks along with Cleveland’s first-round pick from last season, Corey Coleman.