While the chase for the Heisman Trophy is currently dominated by quarterbacks, Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers continues to make his way up the list.
Expectations couldn’t be higher in Ann Arbor as the 2016 college football season continues to play out. In Jim Harbaugh’s first year at his alma mater last year, Michigan won double-digit games (10) for the first time since Brady Hoke’s debut season as the Wolverines’ head coach in 2011. Michigan finished that 2011 season with 11 wins and a Sugar Bowl victory over Virginia Tech.
Yet, when the Wolverines fired Hoke in 2014, it wasn’t because of defensive inefficiency. Michigan gave up a little more than 22 points per game that season and had their offense been up to par, Hoke’s finale in Ann Arbor probably would’ve ended with at least a bowl appearance, if not a postseason victory.
Nevertheless, now in his second season, Harbaugh is putting his top five 2016 recruiting class to good use. It’s a class that includes No. 1 overall prospect and five-star defensive end Rashan Gary; and aside adding a plethora of young talent, the Wolverines returned eight offensive and six defensive starters from 2015. But of the 14 returning starters, 13 of them have a position attached to their name. One, however, can’t be identified by the side of the ball he plays on, nor a position on the field.
That player is Jabrill Peppers, who said at the Wolverines’ media day in August regarding what position he plays, “I’d just say athlete.”
Michigan recruited Peppers as a defensive back, and the expectation coming into his first season (2014) was that he would play on one side of the ball. Yet, after playing seemingly every position on the field in 2015, Peppers already has 33 tackles, two sacks, 246 punt return yards and 95 kick return yards in 2016. He also averages 12 yards per carry on offense.
Through five games this season and despite being down 21-7 in the first quarter to Colorado, the Wolverines have controlled every opponent they’ve faced. As Michigan works its way through a trio of tough Big Ten road games later this season, don’t be surprised if Peppers sees a massive increase in usage.
Despite the fact that dual-threat quarterbacks Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson currently own the spotlight, Michigan will likely be a legitimate national championship contender come late November. If the Wolverines can defeat a tough Ohio State team in Columbus on Nov. 26th and win the Big Ten championship, Peppers (or “Charles Woodson 2.0” as he’s referred to in Ann Arbor) will likely receive national recognition for his role as a major catalyst on both sides of the ball for Jim Harbaugh’s second-year squad.
Don’t count Peppers out of the Heisman race yet.