The Cleveland Browns will be tempted to use Jabrill Peppers in multiple roles, but letting him focus on playing safety may be the best course of action.
The Cleveland Browns gave their beleaguered defense a major boost in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft by selecting Myles Garrett and Jabrill Peppers.
While it is clear that Garrett will have one main job – attack the opposing quarterback – Peppers’ role may be more fluid at first.
After playing linebacker and safety at Michigan, among other positions, head coach Hue Jackson made it clear that Peppers will line up at safety for the Browns. He should also be an asset on special teams as a returner.
And then there is an as yet unspecified role on offense, Jackson said via the team’s website:
"“He’s football player, a very dynamic player. Obviously, he’s going to play defense for us, but we’ll find a role for him over there on offense. No question.”"
It is easy to see why Jackson would be intrigued with seeing the athletic Peppers with the ball in his hands on offense. The Wolverines mixed in Peppers on occasion the past two seasons and he averaged 5.3 yards per carry and scored five touchdowns on 43 rushes at Michigan.
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Jackson was also able to utilize Terrelle Pryor’s various skills last season, most notably against the Miami Dolphins when Pryor had 200 yards of combined offense.
But is it in the best interests of Peppers and the Browns to have him do so much?
One of the knocks against Peppers in the pre-draft process was that while he was good at several roles in college he really didn’t excel at any one of them, outside of the return game. A look at his draft profile at NFL.com reveals concerns about his instincts, his coverage technique and his ability to anticipate what the offense is doing.
Add it all up and you get:
"The ultimate Swiss Army Knife on the collegiate level, and will likely play a hybrid role on the next level that allows him to blitz, cover and chase, Peppers’ draft value will be helped by his return ability and that is a role he should maintain throughout the earlier stages of his career. While Peppers doesn’t have the production teams expect from first-round defenders, he should benefit from a role that is more clearly defined on the next level."
Even if he had solely played one position in college, Peppers, like most rookies, would still need time to adjust to the speed and complexity of the NFL game. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams also doesn’t appear to be the most patient guy, so if Peppers’ mind is wandering toward his offensive responsibilities in the meeting room, that does not seem as if it would go over very well.
While Jackson is intrigued by what Peppers could potentially do on offense, he also sounds as if he will keep things in check and not overload Peppers too quickly, according to the team’s website:
"“When you have guys that have ability to make plays, you do anything and everything you can to put them in an environment so they can showcase their talent and ability. We’ll do that, but first we are bringing him in here to play defense and play special teams. He’s one of the premier special teams players in football. He is a tremendous punt returner and kick returner.”"
The Browns need all the help they can get on offense after averaging just 16.5 points per game last season. As bad as the offense was in 2015, the defense was even worse.
That’s why it may be best if the coaching staff lets Peppers focus on being the best safety he can be for now and worry about unleashing the “Swiss Army knife” for some point down the road.