Will Jabrill Peppers boom or bust in NFL? That depends on who you ask

Sporting News
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?

Will Jabrill Peppers boom or bust in NFL? That depends on who you ask

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 is either the best football player in the 2017 NFL Draft or an overrated bust-in-waiting.

That depends on who you ask after reports Peppers tested positive for a dilute sample at the NFL Combine. Peppers' agency offered a response to the test, and now we have two sides to the story. The same could be said for Peppers' NFL Draft prospects.

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Rest assured, there's no in between when forecasting Peppers’ future, even if that middle ground might help figure out what's next for the former Michigan standout and Heisman Trophy finalist.

That's the problem. It must be a "boom or bust" verdict with Peppers, and the show hasn't even started yet. Both sides latch on to one thing and become entrenched, and that continued after his double-dip performance as a linebacker and safety at the NFL Combine. For all the labels, Peppers knows the one he wants at the next level.

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"The bottom line is, I'm a ball player and a hell of a ball player," Peppers said (via MLive.com). "I don't have a lot of tape at safety. But I'm a pretty damn good safety.”

Peppers proved he's a hell of an athlete at the NFL Combine, and that evokes both sides of the argument.

Here's one ...

Why not just write "Superman?" Now, the other ...

So bust, right?

Only that's been going on since Peppers arrived as a five-star recruit at Michigan in 2014. We’re dealing with a football player with bundles of God-given ability whose coverage skills are being questioned. Yet both sides tend to latch on that one thing, and that’s where the problem begins.​ Here are a few examples:

Peppers is the next Woodson!

He’s not. Woodson is one of the greatest defensive backs in the history of college and pro football. That is the standard for Michigan defensive backs, but Peppers brings a different skill set to the table. Peppers even said as much multiple times. Woodson even sees Peppers as a more of a Tyrann Mathieu-type player at the next level. The Peppers-Woodson comparison isn't fair to either player.

Peppers can play anywhere!

He can, and he played double-digit positions for the Wolverines. At one point, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh compared Peppers to Jim Thorpe. In the NFL, however, locking Peppers into one or two positions in the secondary might benefit him. He won’t have to multi-task as much at the next level.

Peppers is overrated!

He’s not. Peppers produced 72 tackles, 16 tackles for loss and four sacks at linebacker while playing for his third coordinator in three seasons. He averaged 26.0 yards per kick return and 14.8 yards per punt return. He had 751 all-purpose yards.That’s production, and he would have been productive at any school in the FBS at any position in the secondary. Keep in mind that Peppers played for three defensive coordinators in three seasons. He might be in a different role as a rookie in the NFL.

Peppers had just one pick!

"On a tipped pass" is the next part of that sentence. This is a valid yet singular-focused criticism. What if Peppers has six interceptions as a rookie? Then that college stat will be irrelevant. The bigger question is whether he can make game-changing plays in the secondary in the NFL. That was not proven at the college level, but part of that was the fact he played linebacker in Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown's scheme in 2016.

Peppers is a bust!

This belief is magnified because Peppers is a two-way player. Remember Ohio State’s Chris Gamble? He had seven career interceptions at Ohio State, then had 13 interceptions in his first two years with Carolina. He enjoyed a productive nine-year career with the Panthers but never made the Pro Bowl. Gamble wasn’t a bust, but he’s not headed to Canton. The difference here is that if Peppers has that kind of career in the NFL, the side that thinks he’s overrated will proclaim he’s a bust.

What's next

Which brings us to the 2017 NFL Draft. Peppers’ performance likely clinched his status as a first-round pick, and that’s a question that still has wide-ranging answers. Is he Thorpe? Honey Badger? Gamble? Woodson? Su'a Cravens? Deone Bucannon? Somebody else?

It depends on the landing spot. Sporting News listed the five best fits for Peppers before the NFL Combine, and the last three are interesting. Imagine Peppers on a Texans’ defense that features Jadeveon Clowney and J.J. Watt. Or on a Green Bay defense as Dom Capers' missing piece? Do you think Bill Belichick could find the right spot for Peppers in New England? We think so.

Approaching Peppers' future with an open mind is the best bet. He has the talent to be a Pro Bowl-caliber NFL player. He can also wash away labels such as overboard, overhyped or overrated at the next level. Best guess? Peppers will thrive because there will be fewer expectations than he faced at Michigan. If Peppers can define that skill set and make it match with the team that drafts him, then he could be a star in the NFL. He'll also be an asset in the return game if that's an option. He'll get a chance to answer those questions, and it's best to keep an open mind and let the show play out.

Somehow that show wasn't enough at the college level, but Peppers believes he's ready. He says he's a hell of a player and a damn good safety. Now, he has a chance to prove it, and the polarizing nature makes him arguably the most intriguing first-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.

Rest assured, both sides will be watching with great interest so they can say "I told you so" no matter what happens next.

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