The New England Patriots own the last pick of the opening round in the 2017 NFL Draft by virtue of winning Super Bowl LI (saying that will never get old). While we won’t know the team needs for the draft until after the opening period of free agency, ESPN’s Mel Kiper has presented another first round mock draft and the Patriots are projected to take a player that fills many roles.
Michigan LB/S Jabrill Peppers
“Peppers is still a bit of a mystery in terms of projection -- teams are doing a lot of homework and trying to figure out how and where he'll fit,” Kiper writes. “But I know a good place to land for a player who can do just about anything but just needs a coaching staff who can be creative and use his instincts. Jim Harbaugh will be doing a lot of selling on Peppers' behalf, and perhaps the Patriots will listen.”
Peppers is just 21 years old and holds a ridiculous amount of potential. He was named Second Team All American and Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2015, and was a unanimous selection as First Team All American in 2016, in addition to receiving the Lott Trophy (best defender with excellent character), the Paul Hornung Award (most versatile player), and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year as the conference’s best defensive player, best linebacker, and best return specialist.
You could say that Peppers wears a lot of hats.
Peppers racked up 10 passes defended and 5.5 tackles for loss in a safety role in 2015, and added 13 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, and an interception in more of a linebacker role in 2016. At 6’1, 210 pounds, Peppers will likely go back to the strong safety position in the NFL.
Peppers also added 321 yards from scrimmage and 5 touchdowns on offense over the past two seasons, and was an elite punt returner, averaging 13.1 yards per return (and 26.8 yards per kickoff return, too).
The concern with Peppers is a clear question of where does he fit in the NFL? He’s not necessarily good enough to play defensive back and he’s too light to play linebacker. He’s not polished enough at running back to consider taking him in the first round.
Peppers is an in-the-box safety, so he’s not an obvious choice should FS Duron Harmon depart in free agency; he’s not big enough at linebacker to replace LB Dont’a Hightower if he leaves. Then there’s the question of whether or not his return game is anything better than what CB Cyrus Jones brings to the table, should Jones figure out his fumbling problems (Jones is a far better returnman, for the record).
The Patriots are going to be a fit for Peppers because Belichick loves versatile players, and because Peppers was considered a top 5, top 10 talent at one point before people started asking what his role would be in the NFL. New England could be getting a lot of value here.
Would you want the Patriots to take Peppers?