“I think he could be a top corner in the league if he was moved there.” That was a quote dating back to July from trainer and former high school coach, Brian Walker, discussing New York Giants‘ star safety Jabrill Peppers and his versatile skillset. Little did Walker know, Peppers may soon need to put his words into action.
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Joe Judge: ‘Peppers Might See the Outside’
It’s no secret that the Giants are aching for help at cornerback. New York entered the offseason with question marks, but also optimism when it came to their CB2 spot opposite free-agent addition James Bradberry. Unfortunately, DeAndre Baker’s legal troubles, Sam Beal’s opt-out decision and Ross Cockrell’s contract debacle have radically decreased Big Blue’s cup-half-full approach at the position.
Lingering concerns on the boundary of the Giants’ defense may force New York’s hand in being creative when it comes to the position, evident by head coach Joe Judge being open-minded about playing his best safety, Peppers, at cornerback. Remind you, a position he hasn’t functioned in since his high school days when he was rated the nation’s No. 2 overall recruit back in 2014.
“We’re gonna give him a swing of the bat at a lot of things,” Judge said of Peppers to reporters on Wednesday. “Depending on what the situation is, a guy like Peppers might see the outside.”
While Judge didn’t fully come out and say a position change is imminent, it’s growing increasingly evident that Peppers is likely to see more work at cornerback than he ever has over his first three NFL seasons, a situation that doesn’t appear to faze Peppers all too much.
“We’ve all been cross-training and can do multiple things,” Peppers said. “It’s a new year, a new focus. I’m just excited to start on that journey.”
Why Peppers at CB Could Be Big Blue’s Best Play
Simply put, the market for quality starting cornerbacks is pretty bleak at the moment, and likely not going to change anytime soon. Free-agent Logan Ryan remains the best option at the moment, but his desire to play safety wouldn’t make much sense in the Giants’ secondary. A potential trade for Chargers’ Desmond King or Patriots JC Jackson is also an option, but one that would warrant sizeable compensation.
In Peppers, the Giants have a big-bodied physical specimen who Michigan’s head coach, Jim Harbaugh, once deemed “one of the fastest people in a football uniform I’ve ever seen.” More importantly, it would allow the G-Men to get their best defensive backs all on the field at once.
Peppers is one-third of a tantalizing safety group in New York, alongside the likes of budding second-year pro Julian Love and rookie Xavier McKinney. Add in the likes of cornerbacks James Bradberry and rookie Darnay Holmes, and you likely have Big Blue’s top-five defensive backs on their roster.
The Giants ranked within the top-11 of NFL teams in 2019 with a 63% defensive personnel frequency from the nickel alignment (the use of five defensive backs).
Byron Jones 2.0?
It’s certainly fair to question if Peppers could hold up on the outside, as many would point towards his coverage skills as arguably the biggest weakness in his game. With that said, you don’t have to look much further than Byron Jones, the NFL’s second-highest-paid corner, as reason to be optimistic.
Jones, a player the Giants were readily linked to in free-agency before opting to sign Bradberry, entered the league as a safety, a position in which he played predominantly over the first three seasons of his career. Jones struggled in coverage on the backend, culminating in an overall PFF grade of just 65.3 (61st amongst qualifying safeties) during 2017, his final year as a full-time safety.
The following season the Dallas Cowboys opted to try Jones at cornerback, and the results were night and day. Since then, Jones hasn’t had a season where he’s ranked lower than 14th-best in overall PFF grade amongst qualifying cornerbacks.
Can Peppers be the next Byron Jones? Only time will tell. In reality, chances are Peppers doesn’t see a full-time move to corner as Jones did, but rather operates as a hybrid player from multiple positions. Either way, Peppers is ready to get the ball rolling on the season and help the Giants’ defense live up to the great units in the franchise’s past.
“We’re all hungry,” Peppers said. “We play for one of the most prestigious organizations in the NFL.”
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