Jabrill Peppers was a really polarizing figure for many fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers around draft pick. There were many who were desperate for the team to draft him. There were others who were desperate for the team to avoid him at all costs. Naturally, he went to a divisional rival, and his NFL debut will come against the Steelers.
The Michigan product was the second of three picks in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft for the Cleveland Browns, and he is projected to start for them at safety in addition to taking on the role returning, for both punts and kicks, according to their official depth chart.
Of course, it was his versatility that attracted him to so many as a football player, though his worth as a first-round pick who was seen as somebody who might not have a true position was debated. But for the Browns, he has spent the vast majority of his playing time playing as a legitimate safety, something that he didn’t even get to do a lot in college because of team needs.
Personally, I’m hoping that Peppers doesn’t force Steelers fans to recognize the importance of investing in your special teams units, especially your coverage units. They are solid at one position with Darrius Heyward-Bey at one gunner spot, but it remains to be seen who the other one will be, and this is something that I intend to monitor.
As somewhat of a digression, the Browns are actually counting on getting quite a bit out of their rookies right off the bat. Aside from Peppers, DeShone Kizer starting a quarterback is something of a big deal, and he will be throwing to rookie tight end David Njoku. Myles Garrett, however, was supposed to be their big impact player, but an ankle sprain is likely to keep him out for a few weeks.
Regarding Peppers in particular, however, he should be in for quite a test to see just how well he can truly handle being a traditional safety. Going up against Ben Roethlisberger, who now has all hands on deck at his disposal, most notably Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant, his coverage soundness will be critical.
It will be interesting to see how much time he spends up in the box, and generally whether or not the Browns’ coaches are going to be willing to get creative with how they move him around right from the start, or if they want to work him in slowly as a chess piece relative to his comfort level.
No matter what happens, however, I would hope that neither camp on the Peppers front will be ready to declare victory after one game. If he struggles, that doesn’t mean that all concerns are validated. If he does well, that doesn’t mean he is about to make the Pro Bowl and that the Steelers are idiots for not trading up to get him.