On May 27, 2013, five-star safety Jabrill Peppers committed to the University of Michigan for the class of 2014. Three years later he’s entering one of the biggest games of his career against the No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium.
At the time, Michigan imagined Peppers to be a special athlete. However, when Jim Harbaugh was hired as the head coach in the winter after Peppers’ freshman season, the safety’s utilization in sporting a maize and blue jersey and a winged helmet was amplified to the extreme.
The junior from Paramus Catholic High School in New Jersey is now a linebacker, safety, nickelback, cornerback, running back and whatever-back for the third-ranked Michigan Wolverines, and is a player who demands attention.
Peppers was on the field for 72 plays at 10 different positions in a game at Michigan State earlier this season. He plays the majority of his snaps at linebacker, but serves as an extra defensive lineman considering his quickness and how often he blitzes. Peppers is difficult to handle at just 6-foot-1, 205 pounds.
“I do know he’s a dynamic player. You’ve got to give credit where it’s due. He’s a hell of a talent,” redshirt junior linebacker Chris Worley said.
Last season, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Peppers ran the ball seven times for 29 yards, caught two passes for 25 yards and registered five tackles. It was not the type of performance a player such as Peppers has been attuned to.
OSU redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett had one of his best games of last season against the Wolverines. He gained 252 total yards and scored four times on the way to one of Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh’s most embarrassing defeats, 42-13. Barrett challenged Peppers a few times, but in all, he made the star player a non-factor.
With the move from primarily playing safety to linebacker, Peppers has become a menace in the backfield in 2016. He ranks third in the Big Ten with 16 tackles for loss and has accompanied that with four sacks.
Even with a greater presence on the field this season, Barrett does not believe he will change his way of accounting for Peppers on the field from the 2015 game.
“I think he’s a really good player but, I mean, I guess last year I didn’t seek him out,” Barrett said.
Peppers has added a little flare to the rivalry this season via social media. In the past, he has referred to Buckeye backers as “Suckeye fans” and even trolled OSU when the Buckeyes were losing to Wisconsin.
Just what the rivalry needed — a little more hate.
Regardless, the ability of Peppers to play at as many as 10 positions is something straight out of a video game. He has only caught two passes all season and gained just 163 yards rushing on offense, but Peppers is most feared when he’s on defense, even by the most prolific offenses — which, at times, OSU has not been.
“This year, I know he’s playing a different position, but I think what we’re going to do is going to be effective,” Barrett said. “It’s not going to be me trying to figure out where he is at all times.”