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Patriots 2023 roster breakdown: Jabrill Peppers poised to take on a bigger role in a new-look secondary

Our offseason series continues off with an in-depth look at the seventh-year safety.

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NFL: Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

With the NFL free agency and draft both in the rear-view mirror, and the second phase of voluntary offseason workouts underway, the New England Patriots are officially “on to 2023.”

At the moment, the Patriots have a full 90-man roster. Only 53 of those players will be able to survive roster cutdowns and ultimately make the active team, with others competing for practice squad spots. Over the course of spring and summer, just like we have in years past, we will take an in-depth look at the men fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping New England rebound from a disappointing 2022 season.

Today, the series continues with seventh-year safety Jabrill Peppers.

Hard facts

Name: Jabrill Peppers

Position: Box safety/Defensive back

Opening day age: 27 (10/4/1995)

Size: 5’11”, 213 lbs

Jersey number: 5

Contract status: Under contract through 2024 (2025 UFA)


A former five-star recruit who decided to leave Michigan with two years of eligibility left, Peppers entered the NFL as the seventh defensive back selected in the 2017 draft. The Cleveland Browns invested the 25th overall pick in the first round to bring him aboard, and he made an immediate impact on their defense. Primarily aligning as the starting deep safety, he appeared in 13 games as a rookie and was on the field for three-fourths of Cleveland’s defensive snaps.

Despite the promise Peppers showed in his first year as a system, his playing time decreased during his sophomore season and his role started to look different: the Browns decided to use him across their secondary and not in one pre-defined role. The ex-Wolverine performed well in this setting, but the team still moved on from him the following offseason. Peppers was one of the players included in the blockbuster trade that sent wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. from the New York Giants to Cleveland.

Peppers spent three seasons with the Giants, primarily serving as their starting box safety. Along the way, he added 32 more games to his résumé and prompted the team to exercise the fifth-year option in his rookie contract to keep him in the fold through 2021. Following that season he joined the Patriots on a one-year free agency deal. All in all, Peppers has appeared in 78 career games between his stints in Cleveland, New York and New England. He intercepted four passes, forced four fumbles and recovered six, and notched 4.5 sacks.

2022 review

Stats: 17 games (5 starts) | 398 defensive snaps (35.2%), 269 special teams snaps (58.9%) | 52 tackles, 1 missed tackles (1.9%), 1 fumble recovery | 20 targets, 17 catches, 148 yards | 8 special teams tackles

Season recap: Peppers entered 2022 still recovering from a torn ACL that ended his previous season back in October. The injury and his status as a tweener of sorts likely impacted his first ever trip to free agency: the former first-round draft pick did not find a new team as part of the first wave of free agency, and instead had to see the calendar turn to April before officially signing.

When he did, he inked a one-year, $2 million contract that included $1.3 million in guarantees as well as $2.5 million in incentives. Peppers did not go on to earn the full value of that pact, but he nonetheless developed into a valuable contributor and tone-setter in the Patriots’ defensive backfield.

Playing a versatile role that saw him regularly move between the box, the slot, the deep parts of the field and even the perimeter of the defense, the six-year man saw action in all 17 of New England’s games. In total, he was on the field for 398 of a possible 1,130 defensive snaps (35.2%) — showing some encouraging durability despite coming off a major knee injury.

Peppers effectively served as the fourth member in the Patriots’ safety rotation behind Devin McCourty, Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips. While this meant that his playing-time fluctuated a bit based on the opponent and the availability of the other three, he was quite successful when on the field. All in all, he registered 52 tackles and recovered a fumble; he also missed just one of his tackle attempts all year. He did allow 17 catches on 20 targets, but gave up only 148 yards and no touchdowns.

While he had his biggest impact on the defensive side of the ball, Peppers also was a regular contributor on special teams.

Appearing on both coverage and return teams, he played a total of 269 of 457 kicking game snaps (58.9%) — the seventh-highest number on the team. He finished the year with eight total tackles and also threw a key block on All-Pro Marcus Jones’ game-winning punt return against the New York Jets in Week 11. On the flip-side, he was on the field for all three kickoff return touchdowns allowed by the Patriots.

2023 preview

What will be his role? In his first year with the Patriots, Peppers did not fit into a clearly pre-defined role. Instead, he moved around all over the formation according to opponent, matchup and situation. That will likely not change in 2023, even though most of his snaps will still come either as a box safety or slot defender. As such, he will be a key member of a safety rotation also featuring Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips and, possibly, Joshuah Bledsoe, Jalen Mills, Jonathan Jones and Myles Bryant.

What is his growth potential? Peppers was the nominal No. 4 safety on the Patriots’ roster in 2022, but with Devin McCourty off to retirement is in line to see more prominent action. His growth potential is therefore mostly tied to him actually expanding his role. On top of that, he should also become more comfortable within the defense and in the kicking game with one year of experience under his belt.

Does he have positional versatility? He has indeed. As noted above, Peppers played all over the formation in 2022 but primarily was used closer to the line of scrimmage: of his 398 defensive snaps, 186 came in the box (46.7%) and 101 in the slot (25.4%); he also lined up as a free safety on 42 snaps (10.6%), on the defensive line on 41 (10.3%), and split out wide on 28 (7.0%). In addition, he was a four-unit member of the Patriots’ special teams group and saw action on punt coverage (79 snaps; 29.4%) and return (59; 21.9%) and kickoff coverage (75; 27.9%) and return (56; 20.8%).

What is his salary cap situation? A pending free agent, Peppers signed a two-year, $9 million contract extension with the Patriots before the official start of the new league year. The first season of that pact carries a salary cap hit of $3.45 million: he will play on a $1.08 million salary and $1.55 million signing bonus proration — both of which are fully guaranteed — as well as $680,000 and $140,000 in roster and workout bonuses, respectively.

How safe is his roster spot? Peppers, who changed his jersey number from 3 to 5 this offseason, is a lock to make the Patriots’ 53-man roster in 2023. He just signed a multi-year extension, is still relatively cheap for a player possibly playing a prominent role, and has proven himself a valuable contributor on defense and special teams. Add the fact that the post-Devin McCourty future of the New England secondary is somewhat unclear, and you can see why Peppers will be an integral part of the unit this season.

One-sentence projection: Jabrill Peppers is poised to take on a bigger role in the Patriots’ new-look secondary, and as a result should improve his numbers across the board.