It is interesting that when Jabrill Peppers is asked about becoming more of a leader, he says there are a whole bunch of great leaders on the Giants and he is trying to learn from them.
It is interesting when Peppers is asked about his hunger to play after his 2019 season was curtailed by injury, he says everyone on the team is hungry.
When asked about his first impressions of Xavier McKinney, the rookie from Alabama and likely Peppers’ running mate as the starting safeties, Peppers never mentions McKinney and instead says all the players look to be in great shape — “they are well conditioned, they are moving well.’’
There is plenty Peppers could say, of course, as he looms as one of the most important pieces of a defense that, at best, can be viewed as a work in progress, and, at worst, can be seen as truly bad and more realistically should be considered guilty until proven innocent, as far as viability to help the Giants win games.
There is also, in a sense, little Peppers needs to say as he hunkers down for his second year with the Giants. Promises or predictions or proclamations ring hollow this time of year, anyway, and are probably worthless when it comes to this player as this juncture of his career. Peppers, 24, enters his fourth NFL season, and no one knows quite what to make of him. Nothing he can say can change that.
Can he live up to his status as a 2017 first-round draft pick of the Browns? Was he worth the value the Giants assigned to him when they insisted Peppers be part of the mega-package that sent Odell Beckham Jr. to Cleveland?
He is a local football legend, after winning four state championships at Paramus Catholic. He was a unique performer at Michigan, where he was a safety/linebacker hybrid on defense, a sensational returner on special teams and even played some offense for the Wolverines. He did not do much of great impact as an NFL rookie, improved in year No. 2 and did some good things for a bad Giants defense in 2019 before a fracture in his back ended his season after 11 games.
It was enough for the Giants to pick up Peppers’ fifth-year option, which will pay him $6.8 million in 2021. The Giants have a new coaching regime, and new defensive coordinator Patrick Graham has already vowed different looks for every opponent.
“I think, first and foremost, I will play wherever the team needs me to play,’’ Peppers said. “We’ve all been cross training and can do multiple things. Whatever the scheme is, whatever they see fit, that’s what it’s going to be.’’
The Giants will see fit to use Peppers in various roles. Of this we can be certain.
“We’re going to give him a swing of the bat at a lot of things,’’ coach Joe Judge said. “We’re going to shake it out week by week. However our opponent matches us up, he’ll be ready to take on a different position for us.’’
Peppers will line up as a traditional strong safety. He will be used as linebacker in nickel and sub packages. He might be called on to blitz. He definitely will be assigned to play up in the box against run-heavy teams. He could be asked to play some nickel corner for a secondary that appears to lack depth and talent at cornerback.
And though he got hurt on his only kickoff return last season, Peppers is expected to be a factor in the return game.
“In terms of his spot on the defense, I’m not trying to be evasive on this, but it’s going to be whatever we need him to do right there,’’ Judge said. “With his skill set, he’s going to factor into a lot of sub packages. Traditionally, you’ve seen him play a lot in the box in different schemes and roles. He has that body type that still fits that. But he’s going to have to be able to play the deep part of the field as well as the box for us.’’
Peppers brought some much-needed intensity — on and off the field — to the defense last season. Judge thus far likes Peppers’ energy — “You hear him before you see him … you know when he’s in the room’’ — and soon enough, the plan for Jabrill Peppers will be revealed. There is not much more to say about that, for now.