NFL teams want to know what to do with Jabrill Peppers. As a dazzling, do-everything college superstar, the Michigan safety/linebacker/running back/return man is a conundrum — grist for the pre-draft season of overthinking.
But the best advice for what to do with Peppers might be the simplest.
“Put on the Colorado film,” Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown said.
And so you do.
A minute and 48 seconds in, No. 5 in blue is covering No. 5 in white: Colorado tight end George Frazier, who starts out wide to the left but motions into the slot. Peppers tracks him, sliding left, with his football brain calculating the possibilities from 7 yards beyond the line of scrimmage.
“Tremendous football IQ,” Brown said of Peppers. “So savvy. He can learn concepts. He’ll be in the meeting room, and he’ll put his hand up: ‘Hey, coach, I’ve got two questions.’ And bang-bang, it translates to the field.”
The ball is snapped, and Frazier heads right to take out Michigan middle linebacker Ben Gedeon, while Colorado running back Phillip Lindsay takes the pitch from the quarterback’s left side. Peppers sees it all in a blink. Lindsay is doomed. Before Lindsay can survey the field in front of him, Peppers is speeding toward him like a laser beam, squaring his shoulders and making the kind of thunderous form tackle that spins coaches into hyperbole.
“He’s going to play man-to-man on No. 5, and No. 5 is going to crack the Mike, and he’s going to not only get to the back, he’s going to smash him,” Brown said. “He’s the best open-field tackler I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Lindsay loses 2 yards on the play, which sets up second-and-12. Asked months later for his favorite play against Colorado, Peppers said this one — with a caveat.
“I gave up a touchdown on the next play,” he said. “So I guess that takes something away from that one.”
Yes, Colorado is frisky on this mid-September afternoon. The Buffs lead the Wolverines 21-7 before the first quarter is over. Peppers has to do more. Fortunately, he can.
“He’s everything,” Brown said. “He can do anything he wants. Basically, I took my brightest guy and gave him a bunch of things to do, and he did them all, and he was great at them.”
At the combine in February, ESPN asked decision-makers from a dozen teams about Peppers, and the answers all came with more questions: Is he a…