Jabrill Peppers' NFL Draft stock hurt by position fit, not positive test

Jabrill Peppers' draft stock is a hot topic heading into the 2017 NFL Draft. Will the former Michigan star boom or bust at the next level?

Jabrill Peppers was overhydrated at the NFL Scouting Combine. That won't change anything for teams who already thought he was overrated as a 2017 NFL Draft prospect.

The former Michigan Wolverines defensive standout, during his drug screening at the Combine, tested positive for a dilute sample, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Monday. The explanation from Peppers was he drank a ton of water for his busy on-field workouts as both a linebacker and a safety.

That has been more the challenge in figuring out how Peppers, whose versatility made him a Heisman-caliber college football player, fits in the NFL. As a safety, his coverage skills need work to be trusted on the field in a regular role. As a linebacker, there's concern if he can hold up against the every-down pounding of coming up to make tackles.

That has Peppers' NFL projection all over the board. Some see him as another Eric Weddle, the one-time Chargers second-rounder who defied his size (5-11, 195) and lack of true position to become a flat-out playmaker who's still going strong at 32 with the Ravens. Others wonder if he can be Deone Bucannon, the Cardinals' late first-round 'tweener (6-1, 211) who transitioned from safety to statsheeet-stuffing "moneybacker."

Bucannon lasted to No. 27 overall in 2014; Weddle was the No. 37 pick in 2007. That's recent enough history to think Peppers, at best, is looking that kind of selection range in 2017.

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Peppers' first chance to go lies with Washington, which needs both safety and linebacker help at No. 17, but ironically, a simliar situation involving Alabama inside linebacker Reuben Foster may set up the Redskins to steal him. Tennessee, with Dick LeBeau, may be more in play at No. 18, but earlier at No. 5, LSU's Jamal Adams or Ohio State's Malik Hooker is a much better safety pick for the Titans' defense.

Houston at No. 25 could experiment well with Peppers' uniqueness because of Romeo Crennel, but quarterback and offensive line have become more pressing needs to be able to afford that luxury. Green Bay, at No. 29, is in good shape at safety for the short term, so it's starting to look more at cornerback value.

That probably leaves Pittsburgh, at No. 30, as Peppers' best chance to stay in the first round. With how well the Steelers have picked early to rebuild their defense in recent drafts, they're in position to take Peppers to be a situational player initially.

If Peppers is picked by a team that intends to insert him into the lineup as an inside linebacker or strong safety right away, that team will be disappointed. Patience and putting him in the most comfortable position to succeed in sub packages is critical.

It's hard to justify taking Peppers in the first round, unless there's a specific plan for his special skill set, including the wrinkles he can provide on offense and special teams. In the end, Peppers is better off going to an established defense late in Round 1 than a developing one early in Round 2.

But when the latter happens, it will be a lot more because of where he played, not how he peed.


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