By Chris Emma–
(CBS) With the addition of Jabrill Peppers, the NFL Draft class now has one of its most intriguing prospects.
Peppers is leaving Michigan after his junior season, and he projects to play safety at the NFL level. He worked a versatile role with the Wolverines in 2016 that included 45 rushes and 10 receptions on offense. His decision to enter the draft was made official in an exclusive with Sports Illustrated on Tuesday.
“It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do,” Peppers said to SI.com. “I’m choosing between cementing my legacy as a college player and starting my pro legacy. It’s something you dream of when you were a kid. I was torn between the two.”
Peppers was named a finalist for the Heisman Trophy this past season, a rare feat for defensive players. His versatility played a role in the invitation to New York.
A New Jersey native, Peppers arrived at Michigan as one of the top high school prospects in American, labeled as an “athlete” in his recruitment due to his versatility. He played running back, receiver, linebacker, cornerback and safety with the Wolverines.
Peppers will likely play safety and work as a returner in the NFL. The knock on his game is that he posted just one interception in three seasons at Michigan, that coming in his final regular-season game against Ohio State. He also posted 72 tackles, four sacks and 16 tackles for a loss in 2016.
While it seems Peppers is a lock for the first round, his stock has fallen during this past season. LSU’s Jamal Adams is also in consideration as one of the top safeties in this draft class.
The Bears are among many teams with needs in the secondary that could consider Peppers, though their priorities for the No. 3 pick could change during the course of free agency. Chicago also seems much more likely to consider a quarterback or defensive end with the third selection.
While there’s questions to his position at the next level, what’s certain with Peppers is his athleticism. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh told SI.com that he expects Peppers will beat 4.4 seconds on the 40-yard dash.
NFL executives and scouts will debate what Peppers can become at the next level, though he seems bound to be picked in the top 10 of the draft.
“I’m going to really hone in on that and iron out my weaknesses,” he said. “I know my weaknesses, and I know what I’m good at and need to improve on.”