By Tyler Schingeck
When Jabrill Peppers signed his letter of intent with the University of Michigan in the spring of 2013, it was no surprise he received comparisons to an all-time Michigan football great, Charles Woodson. According to 247Sports, Peppers was rated as the number three player in the 2013 recruiting class out of high school, meaning Peppers would be welcomed to Ann Arbor with open arms and lofty expectations.
Peppers got off to a rocky start in his freshman year for the Wolverines. He only appeared in three games before missing the rest of the season due to a leg injury. But Peppers’ health returned, and he put his disappointing freshman season behind him. In his sophomore year, he collected 45 tackles and 2 touchdowns.
Now Peppers is in the middle of his junior year and putting on performances Michigan fans haven’t seen since Charles Woodson’s Heisman Trophy-winning season in 1997. In that same year, the Wolverines won a national championship. Through ten games, Peppers currently has 65 tackles, four sacks, 16 tackles for loss, 163 rushing yards, three rushing touchdowns, a 24 yard kick return average, a 15.2 yard punt return average and one punt return touchdown.
With only two more games guaranteed for the Wolverines before the Heisman Trophy ceremony on Dec. 12, Peppers only has only a few more chances to impress Heisman voters. But he’s in the perfect position to be the second primarily defensive player to ever win the Heisman Trophy.
He’s Got the Exposure
One of the most important parts of a Heisman campaign is the exposure that the athlete gets. Luckily for Peppers, Michigan is the perfect place to get the exposure necessary to win the Heisman. Not only does Michigan play multiple nationally televised games a year, but they also have college football’s largest stadium, hosting over 100,000 fans for every home game. Peppers also has the benefit of playing in the Eastern Time Zone, allowing more people to watch their games rather than playing in the Western time zone, where games do not get as many viewers because of the time difference.
Peppers is also more exposed than other Heisman candidates because he plays on offense, defense and special teams. Peppers plays primarily on defense, but he has taken over 40 offensive snaps this season and has been a key contributor for the Wolverines on special teams, averaging 15.2 yards per punt return, a punt return touchdown, and 24 yards per kick return.
He Plays for a Contender
The Heisman Trophy may be an individual award, but the team performance matters just as much as the players do. A key piece to winning the Heisman Trophy is playing for a College Football Playoff contender. The team that nine out of the last 10 Heisman winners played for finished in the top 10 rankings. This shouldn’t be a problem for Peppers. Michigan is currently 9-1 and ranked at number four in the current AP poll. According to vegasinsider.com, as of Nov. 11 Michigan has 12/1 odds at winning the National Championship. If Peppers can continue to help Michigan keep up their winning ways, he should have no problem checking off ‘playing for a contender’ on his Heisman to-do list.
The Numbers Are Impressive
For a player to be seriously considered for a chance to win the Heisman Trophy, they have to have the numbers. The Heisman Trophy is supposed to go to the most outstanding player in college football, usually the most statistically outstanding. Because the Heisman trophy has only been awarded to a defensive player one time (Charles Woodson in 1997), it is hard to determine a benchmark for the stats necessary for Peppers to do enough to be considered more outstanding than some of the more prolific offensive players like Louisville’s Lamar Jackson or Clemson’s Deshaun Watson. While we may not be able to compare his stats to primarily offensive players, his stats are very comparable to Charles Woodson’s 1997 season and 2011 Heisman finalist Tyrann Mathieu.
|Tackles||TFL||Sacks||INT||PR avg.||KR avg.||Rec. Yards||Rush Yards||TD’s|
|Jabrill Peppers (11 Games)||65||16||4||0||15.2||24||3||163||4|
|Charles Woodson (11 games)||43||4||1||7||8.57||0||231||15||4|
|Tyrann Mathieu (13 games)||59||7.5||1.5||2||15.6||0||0||0||2|
Chance for a Heisman Moment
Whether it was Doug Flutie’s game-winning Hail Mary pass against Miami or Desmond Howard’s punt return against Ohio State, having a game changing moment when they’re team needs it is something that can make or break a Heisman candidate’s chances. To this point Peppers has not been able to create this kind of moment, but he still has a great opportunity when he plays against rival Ohio State on Nov. 26. The game is set to be one of the most anticipated in their 119-year history, as it will be only the second time in the rivalry’s history Michigan and Ohio State will go into ‘The Game’ ranked inside the AP Top three teams, and it will have important College Football Playoff implications. Both teams are currently being ranked in the top four of the Week 12 AP Top-25 Poll. If Peppers is able to create some magic and give the Wolverines a game changing play, then he’ll have quite the case to be the second primary defensive player to win the Heisman trophy.
Photo courtesy of Patrick Barron