The worst-kept secret in college football recruiting went public this afternoon when the nation's top cornerback, Paramus (NJ) Catholic's Jabrill Peppers, committed to Michigan in a televised ceremony on ESPNU (well, eventually... but Peppers' own school just let the cat out of the bag). Peppers is the tenth commit in the Wolverines' 2014 class; as a consensus five-star, he's obviously the highest-ranked of the bunch.
Normally a commit's highlight video goes in a section near the bottom of these posts. In the case of Peppers, that would be a disservice. Lest the scouting portion read as unabashed hyperbole, please watch 12 jaw-dropping minutes highlighting Peppers' junior season:
This whole post will still read as unabashed hyperbole, sure, but now you see that's simply a result of play near-impossible to discuss in reasoned tones.
|Scout||Rivals||ESPN||247 Sports||247 Comp.|
5*, 6.1, #4 CB,
5*, #1 CB,
5*, 95, #1 CB,
5*, 99, #1 ATH,
5*, #1 ATH,
Among the four recruiting services, only Scout doesn't consider Peppers the top player at his position, and he would be the #1 corner on 247Composite if they ranked him there (instead, he's listed as an athlete/safety). Should his rankings hold, Peppers would be the highest-ranked Michigan commit on Rivals or ESPN in the history of those respective outlets—unless, say, the Wolverines signed a higher-rated prospect in this very class, but let's take it one step at a time here. Each site save Scout (6'0", 190) lists Peppers at 6'1" and 205-210 pounds, giving him an NFL frame for both cornerback and safety.
Let's start with the most negative scouting report, which comes from Peppers' Scout profile page:
STRENGTHS Backpedal Quickness Change of Direction Closing Speed
AREAS FOR IMPROVEMENT Blitzing Ability Hip Flexibility Tackling Ability
There's a reason Peppers is five-star recruit. He doesn't [sic] so many things well, and he is also a very good leader. He can stay tight on a receiver in press coverage and also breaks on a ball well when playing off a receiver. He has size, speed, loose hips, is a tough competitor and can be a standout at receiver, running back, safety and cornerback. He is the total package. --Brian Dohn
Yes, that's the negative one, because there are multiple weaknesses listed: namely, Peppers' ability to blitz and tackle, as well as his hip flexibility. Scout's own Stanford outlet disagrees vehemently with the blitzing and tackling bit ($):
Finally, Peppers shows on video to be a very tough player and a violent tackler. If he does, as most expect, end up on the defensive side of the ball, his reaction skills could place him in the role of a top-end cornerback. However, his willingness and ability to strike and his blitzing competence could make Peppers an excellent safety, given that he is already around six feet tall and 200 pounds, or a corner who could master the nickelback role when necessary. He closes well on run plays and does so with a purpose, making him an all-around football player well worthy of his gaudy offer list.
That nickelback part is important—given how Michigan is using similarly-elite young athlete Dymonte Thomas this year, there's a very good chance Peppers plays there as a freshman. For a third opinion on Peppers' run-support skills, here's his ESPN evaluation ($):
Takes a lot of snaps at safety and shows great range coming downhill to make run stops near the line of scrimmage. Can play physical when needed and is an aggressive football player on run support. Quick to read and react and come up for support. Takes sharp angles, closes strong with great burst and will wrap and pop as a tackler. Box run support is still an area that he could improve on, particularly if he ends up playing safety at the next level.
Michigan is recruiting Peppers as a cornerback—first and foremost, at least—so his work inside the tackle box isn't as great of a concern, especially since we're not entirely sure it's a huge concern in the first place. Here's ESPN again, this time on his coverage skills:
Has the cover corner movements and length to lock down in man-to-man. Transitions sharply with little wasted motion. A naturally fluid athlete who is smooth changing directions and shows ability to quickly flip hips to turn and run with receivers. Shines in tight coverage as well with loose, sudden movements to mirror and the hand strength and length to take away leverage and reroute. Hard to create separation on. Also flashes an extra gear to make up ground when caught in trail position. Turns and runs well to accelerate under the ball in deep coverage. Deep reactions and positioning are excellent but he also excels at closing the cushion in underneath zone schemes and limiting run after catch.
Um, NOT BAD, especially when his size is taken into account. If you're getting the sense that Peppers is the type of athlete who could pretty much play wherever he wanted... well, Scout's staff agrees with you ($):
Peppers would be a four-star running back, and a four-star receiver, but he is best in the secondary, where he would be a five-star safety if his best position was not cornerback. He is physical on the jam, has the acceleration to play off a receiver and then close quickly to break up a pass. He has loose hips and the ability to close, and he enjoys shedding blocks and making tackles.
Case in point—in February, Rivals did an overview of the top running backs of the 2014 class, and Mike Farrell's kicker quote puts Peppers in the same category as three five-star running backs ($):
"High school football is about keeping the ball in your best player's hands," he said. "We saw a time when that was guys like Percy Harvin and Derrick Williams and sometimes it is a dual-threat quarterback like Vince Young or Terrelle Pryor, but right now it is these guys.
"Players like (No. 2-ranked) Jabrill Peppers, [Jalen] Hurd, [Bo] Scarbrough, and [Leonard] Fournette are so talented that you want the ball in their hands 40 times a game if they can handle it. Their size makes them physically able to take it, and the physical gifts make them stand out for rankings purposes."
When doing a similar overview of this year's strong crop of cornerbacks—headline "The Year of the Cornerback ... again?"—Farrell again put Peppers in elite company; namely, saying he'd compete as a junior for the top spot in 2013's senior class, a highly lauded group themselves ($):
"Peppers' instincts, athleticism, speed and playmaking ability are very similar to former Florida All-American cornerback Joe Haden," Rivals.com Mid-Atlantic recruiting analyst Adam Friedman said. "He is the type of cornerback who can lock down one side of the field and is not afraid to come up hard to stop the run. Peppers is almost at that same level as Kendall Fuller and Vernon Hargreaves and would push for the top spot in the 2013 cornerback class. The three of them have a lot of the same qualities."
"Jabrill Peppers reminds me a little bit of Vernon Hargeaves III in build and ball skills, but Peppers is more explosive as an offensive player," Farrell said. "On defense, however, both are exceptional."
Rivals named Peppers as one of their initial 2014 five-stars (obviously, that opinion hasn't changed), and Adam Friedman cited a reason beyond his considerable physical talents ($):
Analyst's take: "Physical tools aside, Peppers' leadership qualities and toughness set him apart from other players with comparable measurables and should prove invaluable at the next level. Peppers has a variety of skills that make him an excellent all-around athlete. His toughness and aggressive mentality make him a shoe-in for the defensive side of the ball, most likely at cornerback. Peppers' technique and footwork make it extremely difficult for a receiver to get any separation, especially because Peppers has great closing speed. He is very physical when going in for a tackle and is always a threat when it comes to causing a turnover, whether he is picking off a pass or causing a fumble. He is even a disruptive force when rushing the passer because he disguises the blitz and has the speed and strength to beat the blocker." -- Adam Friedman, Mid-Atlantic Analyst, Rivals.com
This sentiment is very much shared by Peppers' high school coach:
His coach says: "Put aside the fact that he's 205 pounds and physical and extremely fast, his mentality and the mental aspects of his game, I think, make him what he is. He is so smart on and off the field and he really gets it. He understands the game. He feels it out and understands the schemes and what we are trying to do. His leadership is also great. He really is the total package. His work ethic is excellent. He is a competitor in everything he does. You can't ask for anything more and he's a leader and pushes his teammates. I can't predict the future but the sky is the limit for Jabrill. If he stays on this path, we're going to see some great things out of him. When he does move on, he's going to choose the right place and do some big things with his life." -- Paramus Catholic coach Chris Partridge
Partridge has good reason to be so laudatory—Peppers won him a state championship last season with a virtuoso performance in the title game:
CB/RB Jabrill Peppers
Paramus (N.J.) Paramus Catholic, 6-0, 185, Class of 2014
CONSIDERING: A top five of Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Stanford and USC.
PERFORMANCE: Primarily playing as a Wildcat quarterback, Peppers rushed for more than 200 yards and had touchdown runs of 81 and 53 yards, the latter coming on Paramus' first offensive play, in a 37-34 win over Oradell (N.J.) Bergen Catholic in the Non-Public, Group 4 championship.
WHAT IMPRESSED: The physical gifts are obvious but most impressive is how Peppers handled himself this season in the face of criticism. Peppers left national power Ramsey (N.J.) Don Bosco for Paramus Catholic this season, and it ended with him winning a championship. -- Jared Shanker
Shanker mentions Peppers transferring from traditional powerhouse Don Bosco before his junior season. This was a big deal, as even in his freshman season Peppers had analysts trying to put his talent in a historical context—here's Farrell again ($):
Jabrill Peppers, Don Bosco, 5-9/150, CB, 2014 prospect
Peppers is a true freshman who is already the talk of the Bosco coaching staff. Are we looking at the next great Bosco player and how will he handle the pressure of starting for last year's No. 1 team? Is he the best cornerback at Bosco since Michael Ray Garvin or will he be even better?
1.) CB Jabrill Peppers, Paramus Catholic (N.J.) -- Peppers is, without question, the top prospect in New Jersey and may be the best from the Garden State in a few years. Already an impact player on three state-championship teams (at the highest level of competition), Peppers could be on his way to being one of the best players in the history of the state.
Peppers might very well turn out to be the best prospect ever to come out of the state of New Jersey. He could star as a defensive back for any program in the country and could also be just as effective as a running back. Peppers is currently the No.2 ranked prospect in the nation and there really doesn't seem to be much he can't do. He fled Don Bosco and it was no coincidence that after six straight Bosco state titles, Peppers and Paarmus Catholic took that state crown in 2012.
...well, you read the bolded text, presumably. Recent five-star New Jersey prospects include Florida S Will Hill, Florida State S Myron Rolle, and Virginia OT Eugene Monroe, who went eighth overall in the 2009 NFL Draft. New Jersey may not have the talent of Texas or Florida, but it still produces plenty of top prospects, and Peppers ranks up there with any player to come out of the state—with his senior season still to play.
MARLIN JACKSON SCOUTING
I exchanged a few emails with former Michigan All-American defensive back and Super Bowl champion Marlin Jackson, who was kind enough to give his take on Peppers' film. Get ready for the comparison to beat all other comparisons, non-Fred Jackson division:
This young man is the total package at defensive back, he even has the skills to be a legitimate threat on offense, or in return game.
Top notch athleticism, speed, agility, and strength. Very, very instinctive player, anticipates snap count well when blitzing. He is more than a corner. This kid can be a lock-down corner and also slide inside and dominate at nickel back, covering and blitzing.
Closes on the ball extremely well, great ball skills, plays the ball well down field on receivers, goes up and makes plays. Exceptional tackler, closes ground fast and explodes on contact. My favorite thing about him is the passion and attitude he plays with, not cocky, but very, very confident, plays with swag and enthusiasm.
He will be a college football All-American, as long as he continues to work hard he should be a first-round draft pick, his talent is at that level. He's already built like a college corner, immediate starter from day one of stepping on a college campus.
Athleticism and skill of Patrick Peterson with overall football instincts of Charles Woodson.
Anyone and everyone, basically—here are the highlights: Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Miami (YTM), Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Penn State, Stanford, South Carolina, Tennessee, UCLA, USC, and West Virginia. Any major programs not on the list are missing for one of two reasons: they didn't have a chance and therefore didn't bother, or it reached the point where Peppers—like many top prospects making an early decision—stopped reporting each and every one of his offers.
From Juwann Bushell-Beatty's commitment post:
Led by Jabrill Peppers, Paramus Catholic won last year's state title in the New Jersey Non-Public Group 4 division, which includes football powerhouses like Don Bosco Prep. Despite their recent success, Paramus Catholic hasn't produced a ton in the way of BCS recruits—before this 2014 group, only 2011 four-star DT Marquise Wright (Rutgers) and 2010 three-star OL Dan Foose (Florida State) committed to BCS schools since 2002, per the Rivals recruiting database.
With all the talk of Peppers possibly being the best high school player in the history of New Jersey, it's safe to say he's the best prospect to ever come out of Paramus Catholic.
According to ESPN, Peppers rushed for 1,552 yards and 18 touchdowns on 172 carries (9.0 ypa), caught 20 passes for 337 yards (16.9 ypc) and five touchdowns, and recorded 77 tackles, two TFLs, a sack, and three interceptions as a junior. The tape also shows that Peppers was a terror in the return game and even completed a couple passes, so the above somehow fails to capture the entire impact of his performance.
FAKE 40 TIME
247 lists a 40 time of 4.50 seconds, which is entirely believable and gets zero FAKEs because...
REAL 100/200 TIMES
"He could've just chilled..."
...Peppers has posted very real, very fast times on the track this year:
The Paramus Catholic junior speedster set a meet record as he blazed to a 10.83 clocking to win the 100-meter sprint at Thursday’s sixth annual Don Bosco Ironman Invitational at Ramapo College.
Peppers, who slightly strained his right groin at last week’s Penn Relays, beat the mark of 10.95 by Hackensack’s Conroy Walker in 2010.
"I didn’t want to aggravate it but I ran overall pretty well. I came out of the blocks quick and just kept in a natural rhythm," Peppers said. "I’ve done as well as 10.8 this year and my personal best is 10.77 last year, but I think I can get it down to 10.4 by the time the states come around. That’s my goal and I think I can achieve it."
Oh, and the 100 may not be his best event—Peppers believed he broke the state record in the 200-meter dash earlier this month, and while a review revealed a timekeeping error...
Fraulo said Peppers' time is 21.37.
"That stands as official,'' said Fraulo.
...yeah, still fast.
If 12 minutes of highlights is too much, here's a condensed version of his junior highlights with some different camera angles and lots of slow-mo:
MaxPreps picks out the top ten plays from his junior film, which couldn't have been easy:
247 has a short sophomore reel:
Some people get all the talent, so of course Jabrill Peppers has considerable skill with a mic in his hand, not to mention a great ear for beats:
The song has a stamp of approval from Vin Rock of 90's hip hop legends Naughty By Nature—Vin (real name: Vinnie Brown) grew up in the same East Orange, NJ, neighborhood as Jabrill's father, Terry Peppers, and reached out to Jabrill (stage name: J-Reall) after seeing the music video on Twitter, according to this article from TomVH:
Brown happened to be looking through his Twitter feed when an article came across his tweets that mentioned the younger Peppers, whose rap name is JReall, and his new song, “Don’t Take it Personal.” Brown read the article and watched the music video and couldn’t believe what he had seen.
“I would always hear about [Jabrill], and it was kind of like we let him do his thing and now he’s surfacing on his own. That was the first time I had heard him rap, I didn’t even know he had a crew like that,” he said. “I watched the video and listened to the song and it is really good. Jabrill’s song is like a throwback to ’90’s hip hop and I was like, ‘Wow, I’m really impressed.’ ”
Peppers began making music at ten years old, using it as way to relax—and also deal with the absence of his father, who's been imprisoned since Jabrill was seven years old and will see him for the first time since when he's paroled in June (the two have kept in touch only by phone in the last ten years). If you need any further indication that Peppers is mature beyond his years, I strongly recommend reading that article.
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
In case it isn't clear by this point, Peppers is going to get a chance to make an impact in all three phases of the game: while he projects best to cornerback, he could also line up at running back, wide receiver, wildcat quarterback, safety, and kickoff and punt returner. Yes, insert the Charles Woodson quote here:
"[Greg Mattison] compared me to (Woodson) a lot actually, but my goal is that I want to be better than Charles Woodson," Peppers said confidently. "I love the way Coach Greg Mattison uses his corners and his scheme. It absolutely fits into my style of play — aggressive (and) fearless. He wants his corners to be fearless. If he wants you to go lockup on an island, you had better lockup on that island. If he wants you to come off the edge, you better come off the edge ready to bring some pain."
(Woodson approves, by the way.) So, yeah, there's that.
In my opinion, Michigan is going to initially use Peppers much like they'll use Dymonte Thomas this fall—Thomas, who projects to safety down the road, has already locked down the starting nickelback job after enrolling early. Thomas should move to safety in 2014 when Thomas Gordon's spot will be available, leaving the nickel position available for Peppers to step in and make an early impact. I asked Marlin Jackson why it seems the Wolverines are putting their most physically talented freshmen defensive backs at the nickel spot before moving them to their natural position, and he provided this explanation—based in large part on his own experience at Michigan:
Nickel is just about raw athleticism, not as much about technique, more so about about natural football instincts and skills. This is why most schools put top incoming freshmen in this slot.
Nickel was my starting position and I was starting by Big Ten play. Allows you to get comfortable. When you have players like Jabrill, myself, and Dymonte, who are athletic, have good size and instincts along with a physical style of play, you have good candidate for nickelback.
After a freshman year at nickel, Peppers could either wrest the starting boundary corner spot away from Raymon Taylor or stay in the slot for a second year until Taylor graduates. By 2015, I'd expect to see him locking down that boundary spot, where his size and skill in run support make him an ideal fit. He could also end up as a jack-of-all-trades defensive back, lining up all over the field to keep offenses on their toes, and he'll almost certainly make an impact in the return game and see some snaps on offense.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
Peppers accounts for one of what should be two cornerback spots in the 2014 class; at this point, it looks likely that Peppers will be joined by IL CB Parrker Westphal whenever the latter makes his decision, though the Wolverines will also pursue five-star CA CB Adoree' Jackson and four-star DC CB Jalen Tabor, among others. Other remaining needs include strongside linebacker, a third offensive lineman, and a couple of three-tech/SDE types.
The biggest upshot from Peppers' commitment, though, may be the impact it has on the decision of other top recruits—namely #1 overall prospect Da'Shawn Hand, whom Peppers has told his fellow Michigan commits is his top recruiting priority as a member of Team 135. There's no question that Michigan landing a prospect of Peppers' caliber will send waves through the recruiting community and catch the attention of top national prospects, and with the way Brady Hoke is recruiting that could be enough to vault the Wolverines into serious contention for the top recruiting class in 2014—the only mitigating factor may be the small projected size of the class (currently slated to be 15 players but likely to approach 20 when all is said and done).
Take it away, drum major: