INDIANAPOLIS -- Michigan's Jabrill Peppers probably had the most to prove of any NFL Scouting Combine participant this week as teams wrestle with the question of which position will be the best fit for him at the next level.
He lined up all over the field for the Wolverines, but worked out with the linebackers on Sunday because that was his primary position for Michigan in 2016. However, combine organizers agreed to allow him to work out with defensive backs, as well, on Monday. There's even been talk of him playing some offense in the NFL, as he did in college.
He told reporters on Saturday that he's a safety, but what did his testing results on Sunday say about which position will be his best fit?
At a shade under 5-foot-11 and 213 pounds, Peppers' size makes him a Patrick Chung-sized defensive back. His broad jump (10 feet, 8 inches) and vertical (35.5 inches) compare favorably to elite safety prospects of the past like Eric Reid and LaRon Landry.
Speed? That's no problem. He ran a 4.46 40-yard dash, the fastest time of any LB this year. In fact, ChiefsPro Bowl safety Eric Berry's performance at the 2010 combine was very similar to Peppers' this year, as they measured similarly (Berry was 5-11 1/2, 211). They had virtually the same 40 time and broad jump (Berry ran a 4.47 and jumped 10-10), and both did 19 bench-press reps, Berry's vertical was quite a bit better, though (43 inches).
Some scouts have issues with Peppers' physicality, suggesting he should move to running back or slot receiver. Peppers doesn't have great length for tackling (30 3/4-inch arms) but he has good upper-body strength -- his performance on the bench press (19 reps) was very good for a safety prospect. The reason Jim Harbaugh played him near the line of scrimmage in the first place was to take advantage of his combination of toughness and speed -- ensuring that he would be involved in a lot more plays than he would if he played exclusively in the deep half.
In position drills, Peppers' backpedal was stiff and upright, so he has some work to do in that area. But that's a correctable aspect of his game, and he has the athleticism to improve. He showed enough backward movement ability in drop drills to allay concerns about his agility in space. And Peppers has natural hands to catch the football. Some scouts will say that he didn't make enough interceptions in college to be a playmaker in the back half, but playing near the line of scrimmage didn't afford him as many of those opportunities as the average defensive back.
After getting a chance to see Peppers up close on Sunday, I believe the position that he's best suited to play at the next level is strong safety. He's an excellent athlete, but more importantly, he's a darn good football player.