Michigan Football: Jabrill Peppers' Freshman Year Predictions

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Michigan Football: Jabrill Peppers' Freshman Year Predictions
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Ever since he committed to Michigan on May 26, 2013, Jabrill Peppers maintained that he was dead set on playing for the Wolverines, his longtime favorite team, despite the wanting eyes and the fetching charm of Nick Saban at Alabama.

Michigan fans wanted to believe him. For the most part, they did.

Still, a sneaking part of them had to have their doubts, to wonder how ironclad his pledge could really be. With recruits on every side starting to sour on the Maize and Blue, they braced themselves, subconsciously, for the worst.

As it turns out, those fans were both right and wrong.

They were right to fear Saban, who snatched 5-star outside linebacker Rashaan Evans out from under Auburn, his hometown school, on national signing day, but they were wrong to ever doubt Peppers.

Just as he said: He was always a "Michigan Man."

Now, the conversation can shift entirely to the future; to how Peppers fits with the Wolverines, both next season and in the two or three that follow.

On a team that struggled so mightily during the second half of last year, the nation's No. 2 overall player and single most versatile weapon will not be given time to acclimate before seeing the field in a vital capacity.

Peppers will be asked to play as soon as he steps on campus—potentially cast into the role of a leading man, not a mere supporting player. And he wouldn't have it any other way.

"I just think I'm too skilled not to make an impact somewhere (next season)," Peppers said in the candid B/R video above. "Whether it's special teams, offense, defense—the quickest way I can see the field."

One of the biggest mysteries surrounding Peppers, he just alluded to: What position will he play next year at Michigan? And where will he be long term?

Listed as an athlete, Peppers is projected first and foremost as a cornerback, though everything from safety to linebacker to receiver to running back is practicable and still in play.

According to Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press, defensive coordinator Greg Mattison raved about his newest addition, lauding his versatility and sounding like someone who expects Peppers to play defensive back:

Definitely, we are so excited about Jabrill and what he brings to this defense. You have a corner that can really come and bring the pressure package we want. Very intelligent player, very fast player, can play safety, can play nickel, and that’s something that the size and the speed and the competitiveness, he’s got the whole package.

My prediction follows suit, as I don't believe he will be used—at least not consistently—on offense. He might have a special package or two, a la Patrick Peterson with the Arizona Cardinals, but it won't be his primary line of focus.

Instead, I think Peppers will start his career as a cornerback. A nickelback, to be precise.

Like last year's top freshman corner, Vernon Hargreaves III of Florida, I think he will not be able to crack the starting lineup by Week 1 against The Team That Shall Not Be Named, even though he will display the skills of a No. 1 corner immediately during fall camp.

This will be done for a multitude of reasons.

It's unfair to force a freshman into the spotlight so early, especially at a position like cornerback, which boldly asks players to line up on an island. Small mistakes can't be masked during man-to-man coverage on the outside. Instead, they turn into touchdowns.

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
Blake Countess should start the year ahead of Peppers.

Starting in the slot, for one thing, would allow Peppers to get his feet wet without giving him game-changing responsibility. Raymon Taylor and Blake Countess are capable of holding down the fort to begin the season, much like Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson last year at Florida, albeit at a slightly lower mode of efficiency.

During that stretch, Peppers might be given a tough early assignment: covering Notre Dame's tight end, most likely Ben Koyack, in a night game on the sport's most hallowed ground, broadcast in primetime on NBC.

Peppers has a rare combination of size, speed and mass that allows him to blanket tight ends up the seam, and few teams rely on that more than the Fighting Irish. 

From there, I expect Peppers' star to explode—in a good way. He won't be the Wolverines' X-factor any longer; he'll be one of the best young players in the country and a keystone member of their defense.

He should start from there on out.

As mentioned a couple of times above, I think Hargreaves III provides a solid road map for Peppers' freshman season.

The two are different players—Peppers is more powerful and physical; Hargreaves is longer and better in coverage—but they are equally impressive specimens, capable of making the same-sized impact in different ways.

Hargreaves had three interceptions in his first four games and was named a third-team AP All-American. I won't go so far as to predict that for Peppers, since doing so would diminish the accomplishment for Hargreaves, but I won't be so quick to count it out, either.

Conservatively, I think Peppers will be a Freshman All-American. Realistically, I think he could also go First Team All-Big Ten. Romantically, why shouldn't he contend for a spot on the AP All-America teams?

He certainly has the talent.

Assuming He Plays CB, How Will Peppers Fare in 2014?

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It's hard to project his defensive stats, since doing so for a cornerback is often misleading.

A player with 40 tackles and two interceptions might have fared better than a player with 80 tackles and four interceptions; the latter was likely targeted (with good reason) more than the former.

If I had to guess, though, something in the realm of 60 tackles and a couple of picks sounds right. I'll give him 12 catches for upwards of 175 yards, as well. Two offensive touchdowns, one defensive touchdown and at least one punt or kickoff run back to the house.

Why not?

So much remains to be seen in the deployment and usage of Peppers, who should also make an impact in the return game, no matter what position(s) his future holds.

However it turns out, though, there is one thing that we know for sure, or at least for as sure as we possibly can.

It's gonna be a heck of a ride.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

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