Jabrill Peppers is one of the most versatile defenders in all of football. The belief amongst the New York Giants faithful this offseason has been that the addition of 2nd-round safety Xavier McKinney would only further that verdict.
With McKinney and promising 2nd-year defensive back Julian Love in the fold, the idea has been that Peppers would now be able to spend more time down in the box. In return, flexing the skills that once helped him capture Big Ten Linebacker of the Year honors back in his Michigan days.
While that still may prove to be the case, Peppers’ former high school coach, Brian Walker, envisions a different role for the former 1st-round pick.
“From all my studying and playing experience, I think he (Peppers) could be a top corner in the league if he was moved there,” Walker said via a phone interview with SI.com’s Pat Ragazzo.
Certainly a bold statement to make in regards to a player who’s coverage skills have been touted as one of his weaker traits. With that said, it’s understandable to see where Walker may be coming from. While playing under Walker at Paramus, Peppers was rated the No. 2 overall high school recruit in the nation as a cornerback in 2014, per ESPN.
Is Peppers the Next Stephon Gilmore?
While Walker’s comments of Peppers having the ability to become one of the league’s top corners was enough to turn heads, he didn’t stop there. Walker took it a step further, comparing Peppers’ situation to Stephon Gilmore’s, who, by most accounts, is the best corner in the biz.
“Stephon Gilmore wasn’t so much that guy until he got into the Patriots system,” Walker said. “Great defensive backs need a great system to succeed. I think they’ll do very well with this new coaching staff.”
Walker makes a strong point in regard to Gilmore. While a solid defender during his time with the Buffalo Bills, it wasn’t until he got to the New England Patriots that he saw his meteoric rise into the ranks of the NFL elites.
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Envisioning Peppers’ Role Moving Forward
While a switch to a full-time cornerback role is likely out of the question for Peppers, moonlighting as pseudo-corner certainly is not. Especially with the current question marks regarding DeAndre Baker’s availability.
It’s hard to doubt Peppers’ ability to man any role on a football field. This is the same player who Michigan head coach, Jim Harbaugh, once pegged as “one of the fastest people in a football uniform I’ve ever seen.”
He’s also the type of athlete that, despite a meer 45 rushing attempts during his college career, had many NFL scouts and coaches seriously questioning whether running back could prove to be his best position in the pros.
Since entering the league, Peppers has been a jack-of-all-trades. He’s compiled at least 76 tackles in each of the past two seasons operating from both safety positions. In his first season with the Giants, he forced four turnovers (three forced fumbles, one interception) in just 11 games. He’s also proven to be a dynamic threat in the punt return game.
Peppers, along with McKinney and Love, gives the Giants three legitimate puzzle pieces to move around their defense. Out of the three, Peppers is the most effective at the line of scrimmage. This is evident by the fact that prior to his season-ending injury, Peppers ranked 3rd in the NFL in quarterback pressures amongst all defensive backs, per Pro Football Focus.
With that said, expect Peppers to operate out of a slew of roles in 2020, from playing in the box, to deep safety, dime linebacker and slot corner. The Giants have a young talented defense, it just so happens that three of their best playmakers all happen to be safeties. New York will do what they need to get all three on the field, even if it means toying with one’s typical defensive alignment here and there.