Jabrill Peppers is an amazing athlete. Jabrill Peppers plays for the University of Michigan. Jabrill Peppers is an absolute fraud in the Heisman race. These are all facts.
When you think of Heisman winners, you think of someone who has excelled at a position and made themselves standout with their game play. You think of how that player single-handedly carried their team at one or two points in the season to pull off a victory. You don’t think of someone who is more of a Jack of all trades…Master of none.
I am completely baffled by the continued talk of Jabrill Peppers in the Heisman race. You see everybody throw his name out there but there are literally no stats or comparisons which warrant him being in the discussion. Are people just too enamored by his athleticism to ignore his stats and actual game play?
The fact is that Jabrill Peppers is a great athlete. I would take him on the Buckeyes in a heartbeat. He will make a lot of money in the pros. I’m not trying to discredit how good of a player he actually is but the Heisman Trophy is a stat based thing. Peppers does not excel enough at any position to merit the award. Let’s take a look at his versatility.
First things first, I think the Wolverine coaching staff has done a disservice to this young man by playing him at linebacker. He is 6’1” and 205 pounds being expected to take on 300+ pound behemoths looking to destroy him. He will not play linebacker at the next level…there is zero chance of that…I thought the goal was to set these student athletes up to succeed at the next level but that is an entirely different story.
There are comparisons on Twitter everywhere. People complain about Peppers not having as many interceptions as some cornerback or as many sacks as some random defensive end. These are fun for water cooler banter but it is not an accurate comparison. You can’t compare two different positions at two different levels of competition.
For today’s comparison, I am going to look at another outside linebacker who plays for the Ohio State Buckeyes (Jerome Baker) and another Big Ten linebacker (Tegray Scales).
As you can see from the actual stats, Peppers does not excel at the linebacker position compared to just two other linebackers within his own division. Scales has had an amazing year statistically for the Hoosiers and dominates this comparison.
The closer comparison is between Baker and Peppers. Peppers has the slight advantage in four categories and Baker takes three of those categories. They both have 64 tackles and have similar stats besides the fact Baker did not start until week 3.
The point of this comparison is this, if a player is Heisman worthy he has to excel at his position. In this case, simply compared to two other linebackers in his own division…he is not excelling to a level that makes him considered one of the best. If his defensive play isn’t elite, it must be his return abilities so let’s take a look.
There is no doubt about it, Peppers is electric when he gets the ball on punt returns which is roughly two to three times a game. Punt returners do not win the Heisman simply for their punt returning ability. In order for Peppers to win the Heisman after proving to be average on defense, his return numbers are going to have to be far better than anyone else. Let’s see how dominant he really has been.
Through 11 games, I’ll compare his stats with two other Power 5 returners; Adoree’ Jackson (USC) and Johnathon Johnson (Missouri). Their NCAA ranking will be in parenthesis.
|Player||Punt Ret||Punt Yds||Punt Avg||Punt TD||Kick Ret||Kick Yds||Kick Avg||Kick TD|
|Peppers||20 (13)||305 (1)||15.25 (4)||1 (6)||9 (NR)||216 (NR)||24.00 (NQ)||0 (NR)|
|A. Jackson||16 (37)||236 (11)||14.75 (6)||1 (6)||18 (57)||510 (39)||28.33 (10)||1 (7)|
|J. Johnson||13 (59)||198 (19)||15.23 (5)||1 (6)||24 (26)||391 (70)||16.29 (NR)||0 (NR)|
This is a situation where I just picked two other returners to show how average his numbers are. Neither player is at the top of any return category. In this case, Peppers leads the other two players in punt return statistics by a slight margin. The two main categories to pay attention to are return average and touchdowns since players can’t really control how many returns they get a game. When it comes to kick returns, Jackson kind of separates himself from Peppers. He has had more attempts but Jackson is averaging almost five yards more per return and has a touchdown.
Once again, if a player is going to win a Heisman based purely off of his return ability…shouldn’t he undoubtedly be the best at the returner position. In this case, Peppers is very good but not great or the best by any means.
So we’ve established he isn’t a top-notch linebacker. He isn’t a top-notch returner. I guess it must be the fact that while not being the best…he is the most versatile player in America which makes him worthy of winning the Heisman.
Jack of all Trades
When you ask any Michigan fan about why Peppers is so great, they will immediately turn to his versatility. They will mention how it is unmatched and how stats just don’t matter. There are many players through the ages who have played just as many positions as Peppers but is there anyone this year? Let’s take another look at a guy we just talked about; Adoree’ Jackson at Southern California.
|Player||Rushes||Rush Yds||Rush Avg||Receptions||Rec. Yds||Rec. Avg||TDs|
Offensively, it really isn’t much competition. The Wolverines utilize Peppers offensively a lot more than the Trojans have used Jackson. While Peppers has had more offensive production than Jackson, his offensive stats are not out of this world. Is the extra 163 offensive yards and three touchdowns what he needs to make up for his average defensive play and return game? No. Peppers is not a difference maker on the offensive side of the ball. As Jackson shows, Peppers is not the only defensive player playing on the offensive side.
Let’s see how the defensive stats play out between the two.
On the defensive side of the ball, it goes how you would expect with the linebacker dominating the stats with the ball on the ground while the defensive back dominates the stats with the ball in the air. On the defensive side of things, both of these athletes are on par with each other.
As we saw above, there is no real separation from these two players when it comes the return game. Peppers has the slight edge when it comes to punt returns and Jackson has the slight edge when it comes to kick returns. Now let’s take a look at the All-Purpose yards which will encompass return yards and offensive yards.
|Player||Rush Yds||Rec Yds||Punt Yds||Kick Yds||Plays||Total Yds||Yds Play||Yds Game|
So here is where things get a little dicey for the Heisman hopeful. From a pure stats standpoint, he does not even provide as many yards per game (offensively/return game) as Jackson does who is also a full-time defensive player. Jackson provides the Trojans with almost an extra 13 offensive yards per game than Peppers.
The stats show that Peppers is no more than a slightly better Adoree’Jackson as an all-around weapon and not much better than Jerome Baker defensively from the linebacker position.
Big Ten Play Showing Real Peppers
When you dive deeper into his stats, his play has dropped off significantly against the Big Ten (8 games). He did an amazing job of blowing past the non-conference teams but he is non-existent in these last eight games.
|Punt Return Average||21.63||11.00|
|Kick Return Average||40.50||19.29|
|Tackles Per Game||9.33||4.50|
|TFL Per Game||3.17||0.69|
|Sacks Per Game||0.83||0.13|
|Offensive Yards Per Game||8.0||17.4|
Over the last eight games against conference competition, Peppers average games is four tackles, 30 return yards, and 17 offensive yards per game. He is an amazing athlete but this Heisman talk needs to stop…just like Michigans Playoff chances after this weekend.