Yes, I am aware I put Peppers in my Heisman preview as a “dark horse” candidate, but no, that does not add to my reputation as an unyielding hypocrite and Michigan Coach Jim Harbaugh’s personal semen receptacle. Peppers does possess elite potential and talent. The problem is he’s being treated like he’s already realized it, when in reality his greatest achievements while in Ann Arbor have been through the pages of the media and the recording studio. Yes, he’s an amateur rapper.
The thing about Mr. Versatility, a phrase coined by Michigan fans, is that although he plays basically every position on the field pretty well, the question is can he play any singular position at an elite level? So far, the answer has been an unequivocal no.
In two years in Ann Arbor, with the first abruptly being halted by an injury prior to conference play, it’s almost easier to list the positions Peppers has not played than those that he has. Michigan’s regular punt and kick returner, Jabrill has taken snaps out of the wildcat, played as a traditional running back, slot receiver, and split end. Defensively, Peppers started his Michigan career as a cornerback, but after his return from injury for his redshirt sophomore season, he lined up mostly at nickel, strong safety, and outside linebacker.
While it may sound amazing, and in some ways it is, that a kid could play major college football at a high level amidst a revolving door of positions, what exactly constitutes a “high level,” or at least a level worthy of the sort of incessant praise Peppers has received since freestyle rapping his commitment to U of M in 2014? In his one full healthy season, Peppers did not record an interception, force a fumble, or complete the traditional definition of a sack (he has two sacks of rushing quarterbacks behind the line of scrimmage). As a return man, Peppers averages just above 11 yards per punt return, placing him in the fringe top five of his own conference, and has never returned a kick or punt for a touchdown.
Offensively, which is supposedly the key to his Heisman hopes as the first mainly defensive player since Charles Woodson (ironically also for Michigan) won the award in 1997, Peppers has averaged four yards per carry, has caught one total pass, and did not complete his sole pass attempt. In his career, Jabrill Peppers has scored two total touchdowns, the longest of which being eleven yards against perhaps the worst team in all of the Power 5 conferences: Rutgers.
So, with major publications including Sports Illustrated (where he’s currently on the cover), Bill Simmons’ The Ringer, ESPN, and Athlon sports ranking Peppers as one of the five best overall players in the country, for what I would imagine is the first time in college football history a third-year player with seventy-two total yards of offense, two touchdowns and not a single defensive takeaway is a projected top fifteen draft pick and likely Heisman ceremony invitee, what in the fuck is going on?
Is it harsh to call Peppers the most overrated ever, considering #1 overall players of the past such as Mitch Mustain that never amounted to anything? No. Blue chip busts are commonplace. They’re hyped immensely in high school, but when they accumulate less than 100 total yards and force zero turnovers entering their third year, the hype train tends to halt, pivoting to a “why hasn’t he turned out?”
Instead, through the media’s undying adoration for all things Harbaugh and that winged helmet — you know, the school that hasn’t won its own conference since I was twelve — the Peppers phenomenon lives on, without any semblance of rationale behind it..
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