Michigan hasn’t officially announced its plan to unleash Jabrill Peppers on offense in 2016, but you had better believe the Wolverines’ coaching staff has repeatedly and widely discussed the multi-platform usage of the redshirt sophomore.
This past Monday, with a nod and a “mmmhmmm,” coach Jim Harbaugh confirmed that Peppers had indeed practiced with the offense during camp; however, he wouldn’t divulge details such as frequency or specific usage.
Once he’s completely free to roam, Peppers should place himself among the most serious candidates for the Heisman Trophy due to sheer presence. Since he’s already an established defensive and return threat, his potential stiff-arm campaign would gain so much more traction with a splash of carries and catches — similar to what he had done in 2015, just more often.
At this point, Harbaugh doesn’t have to be so secretive about Peppers. The cat’s out of the bag, and has been since 2015. During a regular-season-ending 42-13 loss to Ohio State, Peppers broke loose with seven carries for 29 yards and two catches for 25 yards, showing great offensive ability against one of the top teams in the country.
The conversation gained momentum after that game, but he had offered previews against Michigan State and Minnesota.
Why not use Peppers more often?
Peppers will gain reps as a running back and/or wide receiver this year. The only questions relate to when and where.
Simply put, he’s far too athletic not to be used across the board.
Look at his preseason watch lists. They’re not the end-all, be-all, but they serve as healthy reminders of what he could do at any given time: Peppers landed on the Nagurski watch list (best defensive player), the Hornung (most versatile, finalist in 2015), the Bednarik (another for best defensive player), and the Lott IMPACT (defensive character/performance) Awards.
Those are Heisman traits. Each and every one of them.
Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, Stanford running back/returner Christian McCaffrey and LSU running back Leonard Fournette also possess star qualities — Heisman qualities. In 2015, each of them were, at one point, serious contenders for the coveted trophy — so, of course, they’re the top three heading into this season.
But why not talk about Peppers — really talk about Peppers? His detractors like to cite the lack of dominance at one position. To an extent, they’re right — but they’re also very wrong. He hasn’t overtaken the world at one particular defensive position, but he’s run wild and then some at other spots.
Name another who can duplicate that identity.
He’s invaluable in any capacity, and he doesn’t even have to touch the ball.
He’s tabbed as a linebacker on the roster, but he refers to himself as an “athlete.”
What others dream of doing, Peppers makes routine.
With the exception of USC’s Adoree’ Jackson, a similarly and superbly skilled athlete, there isn’t one player who can directly compare to Peppers. He’ll be used in other ways, but he could very well become the first primarily defensive player to win the Heisman since former Wolverine three-way star Charles Woodson in 1997.
During that national-title run, Woodson caught 11 passes for 231 yards and two touchdowns; rushed thrice for 15 yards and one touchdown; and had 283 return yards — padded by a legendary punt return for a touchdown versus Ohio State — all while snagging seven interceptions as a cornerback.
One year ago, Peppers caught eight passes for 79 yards; rushed 18 times for 87 yards and two touchdowns; and had 17 punt returns for 194 yards. Michigan collected 204 total punt return yards, and Peppers out-returned six teams in the Big Ten.
He also returned eight kickoffs for 223 yards.
He defended 10 passes.
Talk about Deshaun Watson, Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey. Talk about Adoree’ Jackson, too. They’re worthy.
Just don’t exclude Peppers from the Heisman conversation — he has everything, and more, needed to win college football’s most coveted individual award.
Talent. Lots of it. A tuned-up defense with upwards of four to five All-Somethings this fall. He plays for a perceived title contender. The conditions are more than ripe for a Peppers Heisman run.
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— Sports in the Mitten (@SITMBigAndKid) August 31, 2016