Jabrill Peppers, listed at 6'1, 205ish, just committed to Michigan in a press conference announcing his intentions. He becomes the 10th commitment in the class, and the first defensive back. He also represents the highest rated Michigan commit to this point, with Da'Shawn Hand likely being the only one who could challenge that.
To give you an idea of a career track, I'll cover the careers of other 247 composite Top 10 CBs over the years..although they're few and far between.
-->2013: Vernon Hargreaves, Florida. Obviously, he hasn't had much of a chance to make an impact yet. If you ever watched him play, though, you wouldn't bet against him.
-->2008: Patrick Peterson, LSU. One of the most prolific defenders and kick returners in the college football in recent history, Peterson went on to be drafted by the Cardinals with the 5th overall pick in the 2011 draft. He's already been to the Pro Bowl twice in his NFL career.
--> 2007: Eric Berry, Tennessee. A similarly electric player, Berry is largely recognized to be one of the best players in Tennessee's history. The man who won the Thorpe Award just a year before Peterson would also be drafted 5th overall, this time to the Chiefs. He has also cashed in 2 Pro Bowl seasons so far.
-->2004: Ted Ginn Jr, Ohio State. Switched to WR, and well you all know what he did in college.
So not a bad group to be in, eh? By average only, Peppers would be the 3rd best of the group, sitting behind Ginn and Berry. That's right, the 3rd best CB in the history of the recruiting rankings.
Here's the good news; take Hargreaves out of their for his youth and the bare minimum is an All-American career. Here's the better news; Peppers is never going to let himself settle for 'just an All-American career'. Goals-Peppers has them. And boy are they lofty.
"I definitely want the ball in my hands," Peppers said. "My goal is to win the Heisman as a true freshman. People laugh when I say that, but that's my goal. It is not a dream because a goal is something that you can actually achieve. That's my goal - to win the Heisman as a freshman. I definitely want the ball in my hands, punt return, kick return, even if they allow me to play some offense, I'm all for it."
Kids will say things when newspaper microphones are stuck in their face. In this case, however, lofty expectations--and the work ethic to back them up--come standard. Lots of kids work hard, though, right? I mean, what makes Peppers special?
Well, Peppers hasn't had your average high schooler's life. When he was just 7 years old, his dad was sent off to prison and has spent most of Jabrill's life there. Then, in 2010, Peppers' older brother was shot and killed in Newark at the age of 20, leaving just Jabrill and his mom. Perhaps the most incredible thing about his entire persona is the way he has chosen to respond to repeated tragedy.
"My whole life I get strength from," Jabrill said. "When people get down I'll be like, ‘Pick yourself up. You still have your whole life to live. People have been through way worse.' It gives me power. More than anything, it motivates me."
When most prospects have their coaches rave about their work ethic, you really have no choice but to take them at their word. For Jabrill, we already have a large body of work showcasing his relentless drive; He has a 3.9 GPA, a burgeoning rap career that may result in a record deal, a column in the USA Today, while also shining in track and basketball.
But back to the whole dominating football thing. By the time you've gotten to this paragraph, there are probably at least a dozen outlets with detailed scouting reports lauding Peppers' rare, elite talents, so I won't bog you down with redundancy. Here's what I said about Peppers a month or so ago:
I'm not sure there's much I can say about Peppers that hasn't already been said. He's the #2 player nationally and one of the most exciting CB prospects I've ever seen on film. Landing him would likely give Michigan its best athlete since Charles Woodson, even if it isn't a guarantee he would have quite the same career as #2.
When Magnus finds showboating to be the most correctable thing about a prospect, there's probably not much the kid is lacking.
So we know the kid is elite both in talent and work ethic...how did Michigan get a Jersey kid to come here again?
Well, early on, things looked promising. When Michigan offered Peppers in May of last year, he claimed the Maize and Blue to be his childhood favorites, seeming to imply those feelings had never gone away. As the year went on and more offers continued to pour in, Michigan seemed to be firmly in the top group of schools, battling off the likes of Ohio State, USC, Alabama, Florida...well you get it, everyone. However, as we turned into the new year, things began to sour for the Maize and Blue. While the diligence of the Ohio State and Stanford staffs definitely played a part in it, so too did a little rumor that managed to reach Jabrill's ears.
"I grew up a Michigan fan," he said. "I always liked the tradition from Mario Manningham to Mike Hart and all of those guys. The only thing that hurts Michigan at the moment is the coaching stability. I heard Coach Hoke has a lot of offers from the NFL on the table. I know I'm not going to go to a college because of a coach but if a head coach leaves they go into a whole new system and there is a new group of guys I would have to get used to and it just makes the process much more difficult."
Now anyone in touch with college football has never heard such stories, a simple google search would confirm, so it's likely Peppers heard this from a person he trusts who wanted him far away from Ann Arbor. Stories like that led me to turn sour on UM's chances, in tweets like this that now seem foolish. I consider myself somewhat redeemed when I predicted how much he'd like his visit, though.
Regardless, even through that, Peppers maintained a desire to visit campus. And whooo boy when he did, did he like it.
"Real recognize real," Peppers said matter-of-factly. "That's the shortest and sweetest way you can say it. Real recognize real. They didn't put on a show. Basically who they are - they remind me of my coaches right now. That's how comfortable we felt there. It was like we were still at (Paramus Catholic). That was the main thing, just the comfort level and just how down-to-earth those guys are. How they are with their players - they coach you hard, and just everything. It was a great visit.
And the recruiting didn't stop when he left campus, according to Jabrill
Said Peppers, "You got (Michigan commitments) Drake Harris, Wilton Speight, Maurice Ways, (Michael) Ferns. They all hit me and doing their share (of recruiting)."
Add all of that together, and you've got the reason the tide changed so suddenly from a Stanford-Ohio State battle to a Michigan lock. It should be noted, through all of this, that Peppers visited Michigan the same weekend as Ohio State. The results speak for themselves in this case.
But how fast are those results going to be parlayed into production? Well by now we know Peppers wants to win the Heisman as a freshman, a feat which indeed would probably top Charles Woodson in the mind of the Michigan faithful. Unfortunately (or not, it may not matter) for Peppers, he'll be joining the team next year in what figures to be Michigan's strongest defensive backfield since....a great many years. If Dymonte Thomas takes over for Thomas Gordon, we'll see two highly touted (and somewhat experienced) safeties in Thomas and Wilson prowling deep, with two experienced senior CBs in Countess (ok, RS JR) and Taylor on the outside. If Thomas does indeed slide back, that will leave an opening for Peppers to take over nickel duties, although that may not be the best way to utilize his talent, and Thomas may stay there anyway.
Instead, I think there's a good chance Peppers spends his first year as an oft-used utility player. While rotation isn't as common in the defensive backfield as other positions on the field, I think the coaches might make an exception to get Peppers out there, putting him in place of Taylor or Countess, depending on the situation. He'll also get looks on special teams, where his quickness figures to serve him well as a punt returner, and perhaps even on offense. If that is the case, expect it to be some really cool wrinkle that Borges waits until the.....Minnesota game to unveil.
Simply put, unlike other prospects, I just can't see a way the coaches keep Peppers off the field. CB isn't a position that's (comparatively) challenging to contribute early in, just look at Countess. When Taylor's spot opens up following his senior year, expect two good years and a quick dash for the pros.
And who would turn that down?
I'm not the only one who raves about Peppers. Both Anthony and Zach wanted to add their takes to this as well:
Anthony: Our readers are constantly asking for someone to compare Peppers to, and the answer might simply be that there isn't a real comparison for him. Many want to compare him to Charles Woodson after his comments about the former Wolverine great, but not even Woodson was as great of an all-around athlete as Peppers; Jabrill is faster, quicker and definitely physically stronger. I don't think he'll ever have the natural instincts Woodson had -- there's a real chance no defensive back ever rivals his instincts again -- but that doesn't change the fact that Woodson was slower and weaker than Peppers. The only recent defensive back comparable to Peppers is Patrick Peterson, who is similar in terms of brute strength and straight-line speed for a corner. Jabrill has elite speed, good to great hips, good ball skills, safety strength and the ability to bring anything he touches back to the house. He'll need time to learn the position and can definitely improve his tackling and ball skills, but there's a real chance that he comes in and starts on day one.
Peppers is the most powerful and influential commitment to Michigan since I began following the team's recruiting efforts more than ten years ago. He resembles so much change in Michigan football, from the staff's uncanny ability to close on players that it wants, to the rise of the program after it fell so far under the Rodriguez staff. He's also one of the flag bearers of what seems to be a new trend in college football: find an elite academic institution first and rely on your raw talent to carry you into the National Football League. Add in his determination to succeed as a student and a musician, and you're looking at a dream cornerback recruit.
Zach: Recruiting is often the realm of hyperbole and out-sized expectations. We get caught up talking about what the future holds for these kids that are still going through the final year of high school. It isn't easy to forecast these things, and despite our search for the next big thing, recruits are more often than not going to disappoint at least to some degree the career you have planned for them in your head.
I wanted to get that out of the way, because although Peppers is just like every other high school kid that may or may not end up as good as we want him to, rarely will you find such a complete package of talent, drive, and athleticism in a high school football player. There are no sure things, and even broaching the subject of the great Charles Woodson is getting ahead of ourselves, but there is little doubt that Jabrill Peppers has all the pieces to solve the puzzle and become Michigan's next great defensive back. One thing is certain: Jabrill Peppers is the biggest recruit Michigan has hauled in in a long time, and when it is all said and done he has the chance to be one of the best. It'll be a fun ride following Jabrill's career.