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Patriots safety Jabrill Peppers ‘plays football the way football is supposed to be played’

The veteran safety has become one of the most valuable members on the Patriots defense.

New England Patriots v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

After losing long-time starting safety Devin McCourty to retirement earlier this year, the New England Patriots had to find a way to fill a major hole both on and off the field. Seven games into the 2023 regular season, it has become clear that Jabrill Peppers is playing a major role in this process.

Now in his second season with the Patriots, Peppers has developed into an invaluable presence both in the team’s secondary and its locker room. Look no further than New England’s Week 7 upset over the Buffalo Bills.

Not only did Peppers catch an interception in the first quarter to set up a Patriots touchdown, he also later stepped in front of the whole room to address the team. While not a team captain, the 28-year-old has very much established himself as a team leader.

“He plays with a lot of passion, and when he speaks the guys listen,” de facto co-defensive coordinator Jerod Mayo said earlier this week. “He flies around. He plays football the way football is supposed to be played.”

Before joining the Patriots as a free agent in 2022, Peppers had spent time with the Cleveland Browns and New York Giants.

A first-round selection by the Browns in the 2017 draft, he was part of a winless team his rookie season. Peppers still managed to play some encouraging football, but was unable to build on it the following season. He was eventually traded to the Giants as part of a deal also involving wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., and appeared to turn a corner.

However, injuries limited him to only 32 games over three seasons in New York — the final of which an ACL tear that prematurely ended his 2021 campaign. That ailment, however, also allowed the Patriots to pick him up on the cheap in free agency.

Since then, Peppers has developed into a high-quality pickup who is playing the best football of his career in 2023.

“He’s just a playmaker and we expect nothing but that out of him,” linebacker Jahlani Tavai said about him. “It’s the reason why the coaches have him here, and it’s the reason why I love getting to play with him. I’m looking forward to seeing what he does this week. Hopefully, third time’s the charm.”

So far this year, Peppers has appeared in all seven games, ranks third in defensive playing time, and has had an active hand in three of New England’s five turnovers. He forced a fumble in Week 1, knocked the ball loose for a Tavai interception in Week 6, and caught the aforementioned pick versus the Bills himself in Week 7.

Beyond his statistical impact, however, he also has become a tone-setter — so much so that center David Andrews recently labeled him “a little bit of a psychopath” for his fiery persona.

Tavai appears to agree with this assessment.

“100 percent,” he said. “That’s by far the best type of defensive teammate that you want. You want some guys on defense that are ready to just run into the wall. ... That’s definitely the type of players that we love to have, and love to run around with.”

For the man in question himself, it all comes natural.

“I am who I am. I try to be the same guy every day,” he said. “I guess it’s just because of how I play, the type of energy I try to express. Just out there being relentless, not really caring about how something may feel on my body or anything. You got a job to do, you go out there. I try to do it as physical as I can.”

Seven games into the Patriots’ post-Devin McCourty era, this has allowed Peppers to pick up the slack. Together with fellow safety Kyle Dugger, he has helped lead a secondary that is among the best in football.

He also has brought an infectious energy that goes beyond his position group, and even beyond the Patriots’ defense.

“The passion that he brings every day is definitely good for our defense,” said Jerod Mayo, “and our team.”