Michigan Football: Why Jabrill Peppers Will Be the Wolverines' X-Factor in 2014

Phil Callihan@umgoblogContributor IJune 30, 2014

Jabrill Peppers
Jabrill PeppersUSA TODAY Sports

Incoming freshman Jabrill Peppers will make a major impact this season, but it might not be on defense. As Michigan fights to claw back into Big Ten title contention, Peppers’ talents my take him in the footsteps of the Wolverine he most hopes to emulate—Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson.

Taking stock of Michigan’s roster shows that the defense is stocked and primed to be the strength of the team. Peppers has the potential to work his way into the defensive backfield rotation—Brady Hoke has mentioned that he’ll probably begin at nickelback, but Michigan has time to work him in.

His speed and explosiveness also make him a prime candidate to be a kick returner on special teams. But special teams aren’t an area of great need for the Wolverines. Dennis Norfleet (40 kickoff returns for 938 yards averaging 23.4 yards per return) will start the season handling returns.

In the wake of last season’s 7-6 finish, Hoke realized that a serious change was needed to reboot his offense. Within a matter of days, Al Borges was replaced as offensive coordinator with Doug Nussmeier, formerly of Alabama. Peppers' abilities may also be needed to jump-start the offense.

Hoke acknowledged on signing day that besides playing defense and returning kicks, “there might be a plan for him [Peppers] to play on offense.” He recently told Bonnie Bernstein of Campus Insiders that Nussmeier has designs on Peppers playing running back.

But that really doesn’t fill a need for Michigan, either. The team is strong at running back with Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith battling for the top position on the depth chart. If recent transfer Ty Isaac ends up being eligible, the team will have three 4-star recruits vying for carries.

The place where Michigan really needs help (well, besides at offensive line) is at receiver. Devin Funchess returns, but with the injury to tight end Jake Butt, there’s a serious lack of experienced targets for quarterback Devin Gardner.

Michigan Top 5 Receivers (2013 Season)
NameReceptions2014 Status
Jeremy Gallon89NFL, New England
Devin Funchess49Michigan, junior
Jake Butt20Michigan, injured, midseason return
FItzgerald Toussaint18NFL, Baltimore
Drew Dileo16NFL, Miami

Freshman wide receiver Freddy Canteen has emerged as a presumptive starter during spring practice, but after him, the competition is wide open.

It’s just the opportunity a 5-star athlete with great hands and explosive running ability could take advantage of to help his team.

It makes perfect sense—defensive backs are tasked with shadowing receivers and shutting them down.

What better position on offense for Peppers than the one he’ll play against every day in practice? Reps at receiver might even help him improve at defensive back.

When it came time for Charles Woodson to play offense, he made the biggest impact at receiver (25 receptions for 402 yards and three touchdowns) but didn’t play both ways until he had full a season of defense under his belt.

Charles Woodson
Charles WoodsonMark J. Terrill/Associated Press

With the depth that Michigan has on defense and special teams, Peppers might have the best opportunity to shine first on offense while helping his team compete for the Big Ten title.

Wherever he plays—offense, defense or special teams—Peppers is the ultimate X-factor for this season. His bravado during the recruiting process and video highlights have set the stage.

All season statistics from MGoBlue.com, official University of Michigan athletic department website.

All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports.

Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this article were obtained via press conferences or in person.

Follow @PCallihan.


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