ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers can do everything on the football field.
Through six games, the 6-foot-1, 205-pound redshirt sophomore has returned kicks and punts, gone crazy with the Wildcat, and has tackled several for losses as a defensive back. Everything but kick and punt. And throw the ball — but he really wanted to toss one during the No. 4-ranked and 6-0 Wolverines’ 78-0 win this past Saturday over Rutgers.
Already a serious Heisman contender, Peppers has obviously graded-out well during the first half of the 2016 regular season. This piece could end right here, right now, with a simple grade of “A+.”
But that wouldn’t be any fun, and it’d shortchange the accomplishments of the most exciting player in college football. The game has several incredible athletes, but it has only one Jabrill Peppers.
Return Game — A+
With three kick returns, Peppers doesn’t have the volume of most national leaders (five qualifies). However, with 95 yards and an average of 31.7 yards per return, he would, in theory, be tied with USC’s Adoree Jackson for No. 8 in the country. Jackson has 11 returns this year.
Punts have been different, though. With an average of 17.8 yards per touch, Peppers holds down the No. 3 spot in that department. He’s handle 14 punts, with one being a 54-yard touchdown versus Colorado — which decided to line-drive it right to the human highlight reel.
Another bad choice: Rutgers also gave Peppers a shot at glory. However, due to a holding call, the would-have-been nearly 50-yarder was negated. Either way, Peppers has shown pure dominance as a punt-returner through six games.
Had that return counted, Peppers would be tied with Nacarius Fant of Western Kentucky for No. 1 in punt-return TDs.
Lesson here? Don’t give this guy a chance, people. Two weeks ago, Michigan special teams coordinator (and TE coach) Jay Harbaugh joked about that very idea, adding that a coach wouldn’t send a great message to his team by asking it to avoid Peppers.
Not good for confidence, Jay Harbaugh implied.
Offense — A+
Considering he’s a linebacker/defensive back, Peppers has been nothing short of Honor Roll material through six games. Dean’s List. Valedictorian. With 18 points, he’s Michigan’s seventh-leading scorer. Again, he’s listed as a linebacker/defensive back.
He had three carries for 74 yards and two touchdowns versus Rutgers. The JabrillCat formation has proven to be one of the most lethal on the scene. Expect something to happen when Peppers lines up in the backfield. He averages 19.6 yards per attempt… that kind of says it all.
Season totals: Five carries for 98 yards.
On top of that, he’s tied Charles Woodson’s two-touchdown mark set during Woodson’s Heisman-winning 1997 season (and co-national title season). Peppers hasn’t only been gauged against today’s players, but he’s constantly been measured against and compared to Woodson, one of the greatest multi-threats to ever play football.
A couple big catches as a receiver… and he’s there all the way. No remaining doubt whatsoever.
Michigan recently posted its “best part of the ’90s” memory. A few years from now, Peppers might be regarded in the same way when referencing the current decade. In fact, he’s on pace to smash Woodson’s mark of 283 punt-return yards set in 1997. That’s not offense — and this section is about offense — but it’s a subtle reminder that Peppers has has already had a once-every-so-often season.
And he’s only halfway through the regular season.
Defense — A
No interceptions. Woodson had seven picks in 1997 — so there’s that.
However, Peppers has the second-most tackles on the team (38); he’s tied for fourth with 2.5 sacks and leads the Wolverines with six QB hurries — which perfectly demonstrates why defensive coordinator Don Brown wanted Peppers closer to the line of scrimmage this season.
And it somewhat explains Peppers’ lack of interceptions. Peppers has forced a fumble, too.
His presence alters game plans. As a result, he’s helped the Wolverines reach No. 1 status in total defense.
An interception would give Peppers an easy “A+.” With that said, he still has time. Six games into 2016, and Peppers — who is second with 442 all-purpose yards, behind Chris Evans’ 443 — has already had a season to remember.
Jim Harbaugh doesn’t want to overuse Peppers, who sees the field more than anyone at Michigan. Maybe even more than anyone in the nation. Harbaugh doesn’t want to subject Peppers to injury, either.
But when you have Peppers, you let Peppers do Peppers.
“That’s something you have to take into consideration. He’s so good at it fortunately most of the time. He wasn’t taking any hits,” Harbaugh said following Michigan’s 78-0 win over Rutgers, per RU press release. “Did he look that way to you? He was so athletic and so fast. It was really, really impressive. Gosh, if there’s a better player in the country, I don’t know who it is…”
Again, college football has several great athletes. But it only has one Jabrill.
“I know there’s a lot of great players out there, but this guy, to be able to coach a guy like Jabrill Peppers is a real joy,” Harbaugh added. “There’s so much more. There’s nothing he can’t do. It’s the darndest thing I’ve ever seen. My humble opinion is we are looking (at a) Heisman trophy winner/candidate.”