Jabrill Peppers is one of Michigan's most hyped recruits since Drew Henson in 1998. Peppers, who is the nation's No. 3 overall recruit, is expected to make an immediate impact on both defense and special teams from the moment he leaps through the "Go Blue" banner.
While the excitement surrounding Peppers is well-deserved, fans often become enamored with how a new, shiny recruit could transform a unit. But often times, the players who emerge as stars for college programs need a year or two to develop their skills and gain familiarity with schemes.
While Peppers has the potential to become a dynamic playmaker for the Wolverines in his freshman season, will-be sophomore Dymonte Thomas will be better statistically than Peppers in 2014. Thomas has all the physical tools that Peppers has with a year of experience on his side.
Thomas, who was a 4-star recruit out of Marlington High in Alliance, Ohio, started his career in style as he blocked a Central Michigan punt less than two minutes into his first game. He showed off the burst that made him so highly coveted out of high school, burning his defender on the outside.
While Thomas continued to contribute on special teams throughout the 2013-14 season, he found himself buried on the depth chart behind upperclassmen at safety and strong safety. He recorded just five tackles. But he seemed to turn a corner during Michigan's bowl practices, and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison took notice.
Thomas played more snaps in the Buffalo Wild Wings bowl than he'd played all season, and he looked great in the process in the nickel position.
While it's pure speculation to say that Thomas will be "better" than Peppers in 2014, I believe that with the addition of Peppers at corner Thomas' job at safety will be easier than Thomas Gordon's was in 2013. Similar to Earl Thomas in Seattle, when the two outside corners are able to blanket their receivers, the safety has the freedom to take risks and be aggressive. Thomas, who played linebacker in high school, can also help immensely in run support.
Peppers may have a larger impact on the outcome of games, and it's admittedly tough to directly compare the performance of players at different positions, but Thomas will register the more impressive stat line in 2014.
Deciding whether to use Thomas at nickel or safety in 2014 is a big offseason question for Mattison and Brady Hoke. Personally, I'd like to see him fill the void left by Thomas Gordon at safety, which would enable him to stay on the field for every down.
Peppers is a rare talent, and with his combination of work ethic and physical abilities, the excitement surrounding him isn't misplaced. But it's not easy to make a major impact as a freshman, and Thomas' experience has him poised to help shore up the Michigan pass defense in 2014. The Wolverines pass defense dropped dramatically in 2013, going from fifth in the country in 2012 to 66th in 2013.
Simply put, the secondary could use some fresh talent.
The ideal scenario is that Peppers comes in and claims the second corner spot opposite Blake Countess, leaving Thomas in a position to claim the open safety job. The three could form a daunting trio, particularly playing behind linebackers like Jake Ryan, Joe Bolden and Ben Gedeon.
"You'll see a big upside with him," Mattison said of Thomas, after seeing him elevate his play in the bowl practices. The fact is that neither Hoke nor Mattison care if Thomas is better than Peppers or vice versa. They're concern is winning football games.
With the secondary in desperate need of a playmaker, Thomas is more than capable of fulfilling Mattison's prophecy and becoming an integral part of Team 135.
All recruiting information and rankings courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.
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