After just one season as head coach of the University of Michigan Wolverines, Jim Harbaugh has already achieved god-like status for fans of the team. That might be a little over the top but that’s just the way it seems in Ann Arbor and all across the maize and blue nation. The khaki-clad assassin changed the culture of the football program immediately by winning games and making the team a desirable destination for the nation’s top high school athletes.
So if Harbaugh, who is one of the most exciting coaches in all of football, is our new god, then what does that make the team’s most exciting and electrifying player? Is Jabrill Peppers the messiah? Is he the second coming? There may not be a new religion founded in his honor (or maybe there will), but this guy could blossom into the best player to wear maize and blue in decades. If he can stay healthy and continue to grow as a player, he could make what Charles Woodson did for the team look like child’s play.
Stories out of Wolverines’ training camp are that Jabrill Peppers is ready to explode this coming season. The world already knows that this kid has tons of talent, but with the way people are talking he could be the most electrifying player in the country once games begin this fall. The 20-year-old redshirt sophomore has already shown what he could do last season when he was consistently the most dangerous player on the field, regardless of which position he was playing. For his efforts he won the Thompson-Randle El Freshman of the Year award in the Big 10.
You don’t have to watch the game tape for very long to realize what an impact Peppers has on every single snap of the game. As a safety/cornerback last season, it was evident that in addition to his freakish physical abilities, he had a high level of understanding of the game. His coverage skills are more than adequate, as shown by his 10 pass breakups in 2015. But his skills as a tackler are what make him such an asset to the Wolverines’ defense. Once he sets his sights on an opposing runner his ability to track and tackle are as good as it gets, and if he gets the chance to really tee off on an opposing offensive player he lays the lumber with the best of ’em in college football. I’m talking SportsCenter Top 10 style hits.
This year he has made the switch to more of a hybrid linebacker/safety type position in Don Brown’s defense. He will still spend time in coverage but will also have more of a chance to showcase his tackling skill as he plays closer to the line of scrimmage and strikes fear into the hearts of opposing offenses in the Big 10. With the rock solid defensive line that Michigan is sporting this season, look for Jabrill to have free reign up and down the line of scrimmage as the big boys up front occupy the other teams’ offensive lines. With that kind of freedom, watch him to rack up tackles for loss in 2016.
So Jabrill Peppers is a top notch defender, but everybody knows that defenders don’t win Heisman Trophies. You know who does, though? Guys who play both offense and defense, or even better, guys who play, offense, defense and return kicks. That’s right, just like the last defender to win the Heisman, Charles Woodson, Jabrill Peppers makes plays on all sides of the ball. And he makes it look good.
There really isn’t any reason that Jabrill Peppers shouldn’t be on the field for every meaningful offensive snap this season. Even if he’s slightly gassed, you can throw him out there as decoy and defenses must account for his presence on the field. The Wolverines can you use him as a receiver, running back or wildcat QB, and he has the athleticism and speed to take it to the house on any given play. He clocked in at 4.34 seconds in a 40-yard dash that he ran in June. The fact that he is able to play so many different positions and be the best player on the field no matter where you put him is extraordinary.
It’s because of the fact that he is consistently the best player on the field, regardless of position, that coach Harbaugh said that they envision him to playing up to 100 plays per game. That’s bananas. Should he see that much time on the field every game then ESPN has rightly labeled him as the #9 player in the country, and we should expect his TD numbers to skyrocket. And if that happens we will be seeing his name in the Heisman discussion by the end of September. This kid might not be the second coming of Jesus Christ in cleats, but he might just be the next coming of the Heisman Trophy in Michigan, and maybe even the College Football Playoff and beyond.