Over the next few months, we’ll be looking at prospects in the upcoming 2017 NFL Draft from a decidedly Cowboys point of view. Taking the Cowboys current personnel, draft position, scheme, and needs into consideration; defensive line, linebacker, defensive backs, as well as complementary offensive pieces at wide receiver, tight end, and perhaps right tackle, we hope to profile the majority of the potential prospects that could realistically end up as Cowboys within the first two rounds. Once the “official visits” start to leak we’ll add prospects that are possibilities in the later rounds.
#5 Jabrill Peppers - Safety/Linebacker - Michigan - 6-1, 205
Games Watched: Colorado, Wisconsin, Iowa, Penn St., Ohio St.
Pros: Possibly the best pure athlete in the entire draft class. Extremely quick, fluid, and explosive with impressive hitting ability and closing speed when attacking downhill. Dynamic weapon in the box when he is clean/doesn’t have to deal with blockers, and can use his speed and agility to make plays. Has innate ability as a blitzer, very good timing and feel. Projects as being able to handle most NFL RB/TE’s in coverage due to his athletic ability. Used in a variety of ways in college; blitzed off the edge, played as a QB spy, brought on run blitzes, covered in middle zones. Added value as a punt/kick returner, possibly the most dynamic returner in the draft class. Quick-twitch athlete.
Cons: Very rarely lined up as a traditional deep safety, only a handful of times per game, if at all. Generally lacks physicality and is a liability against the run when he has to take on blockers, gets engulfed by not just offensive linemen but tight ends also. Relies mostly on speed and agility, really struggles at the point of attack, doesn’t disengage from blocks and lacks the ability to stack/shed (understandable considering his size). Almost always played within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage from the games I saw. Not the most disciplined player as he will overrun plays at times in the run game and has a tendency to grab/pull in pass coverage. Inconsistent as a tackler, he hits more than he tackles, doesn’t wrap up consistently and seems to mostly run full speed into ball carriers in an attempt to create highlight hits. Irrelevant to me that he was used as a RB/WR/Wildcat QB in college, he won’t have a major impact in the NFL playing any of those roles. Only one career interception.
Conclusion: At this point I think Peppers is more athlete/potential than a refined prospect. There is no indication from how he was used in college that he can play as a deep coverage safety and he has no true position. Most will characterize him as the “Deone Bucannon hybrid S/LB” type, but I think he struggles too much when taking on blockers to play that role full-time, and it’s difficult to project his ability to cover with how he was used in college. Strong safety is probably the clearest projection, but that could limit a defense’s versatility because you won’t want him in deep coverage much.
He needs to be in the right scheme and utilized properly to maximize his ability, likely in a multiple/exotic blitz heavy scheme that will look to bring him from different angles and keep him from having to take on blockers too often. His athletic potential is undoubtedly enticing and he could be an absolutely dynamic NFL player, but I wouldn’t exactly be thrilled with another first-round defensive back when you consider that we aren’t even totally sure what position Byron Jones is going into Year 3. With that said, he should get better at whatever position he ends up at once he is able to focus on a defined role in the league.
I do not have access to coach’s film or anything of that nature, I just watch plenty of football (television broadcast version) and go off what I see out of a prospect. I started this odd fascination of mine in 2011 when I sent my breakdown and links to videos of Tyron Smith at USC to the excellent Cowboys blogger Bob Sturm (April 28, 2011 - Even More Tyron Smith Tape). Since then I’ve continued watching prospects closely, but I’ve never taken the initiative to actually formally write my thoughts until I became a writer for BTB. I hope that I can provide an interesting, and accurate perspective on prospects from a Cowboys-centric point of view.
Special thanks to DraftBreakdown for posting the videos that help provide a more an in-depth look at this year’s prospects.