Michigan Football: Jabrill Peppers- Woodson or Bust


Jan 2, 2014; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Team Nitro cornerback Jabrill Peppers (5) runs with the ball during a punt during the second half at Tropicana Field. Team Highlight defeated the Team Nitro 31-21. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve all heard about Michigan freshman Jabrill Peppers, but in case you haven’t:

Peppers is Michigan’s most highly anticipated recruit in a long time. Hailing from Paramus Catholic in Paramus, New Jersey, Jabrill came to Michigan widely regarded as one of the best (if not the best) recruits in college football. Because of the similarities in his athleticism and defensive position, Peppers is often compared to a Michigan all-time great: Charles Woodson.

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As the only defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy, Charles helped Michigan win its most recent national championship in 1997. Woodson excelled on both defense and offense, achieving legendary status before leaving campus and declaring for the draft. After being selected 4th overall in the 1st round of the 1998 NFL draft, Charles gained immediate professional success. Woodson won the NFL defensive rookie of the year award, and followed it up with two straight Pro Bowl appearances.

This is the standard of achievement to which Jabrill’s success is being measured. Exciting? Yes. Helpful to Jabrill’s development? Maybe not.

Jabrill only had 2 full starts in his first year of eligibility due to a knee injury. The NCAA granted Jabrill a medical redshirt, leaving him four remaining years of eligibility. With Harbaugh’s big move to Michigan, Jabrill is being seen as the leader of a revolution; a new era for Michigan football.

Over the offseason, Harbaugh and his staff moved him to safety, making him more involved on the majority of plays. Jabrill looked good during the spring game. He has confidence in spades, giving off the impression of a well experienced veteran.

Here’s the issue I have with the hype:

If this hype was surrounding a quarterback, such as Alex Malzone or Shane Morris, it might make more sense. As the leader of the offense, a quarterback naturally has more control over the game. As we saw with Jameis Winston or Johnny Manziel, a freshman quarterback can step on campus and immediately create a championship caliber team. However, it is much harder for a safety to have this impact. Again, Woodson was able to do it at cornerback, but he is the exception, not the rule.

Regardless of his position, it’s extremely difficult for a player to live up to such high expectations and can often times be detrimental to their development. Some players thrive under pressure, others don’t. This is seen almost every year in the NFL when highly rated, first round draft picks end up being busts. Peppers had a less than encouraging first year with the team, which may add fuel to the fire and give critics a reason to talk. Whether he’s being put on a pedestal or being criticized as an injury plagued bust, the external pressure to Jabrill’s game development doesn’t bode well for him in the future.  Jabrill can absolutely be the leader of Michigan’s defense in 2015 (and may even see some offensive action) but shouldn’t be expected to turn this team around on his own.

If he does? Great. But until then, keeping our Jabrill commentary to a dull roar might actually help Peppers develop into the superstar he is expected to be.