‘Use Him Like ‘Troy Polamalu’ – Steelers Should Jump on This Pick

If Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers is still available, the Pittsburgh Steelers would be wise to make him their first-round pick in the NFL draft.

It seems, on the surface, the last thing the Steelers need heading into the NFL Draft is a safety-first approach.

It’s only when you realize the draft has become more about the plays players can make rather than the positions they purportedly play that Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers begins to make sense as a first-round selection.

He was a linebacker out of necessity at Michigan last season at a shade under 5-foot-11 and 213 pounds.

He worked out at the NFL Scouting Combine in February in Indianapolis with the linebackers on one day and again with defensive backs the next.

He projects as a safety in the NFL, but also as so much more than that.

As Kim Jones of the NFL Network was told by an unnamed NFL talent evaluator during the combine, “This is a difference-maker. You may not know his position; you find room for him, anyway.”

Charles Davis of the NFL Network reported an unnamed NFL defensive coordinator had this to say regarding Peppers: “If I had him I’d use him like a Troy Polamalu, all over the place as a safety.”



The Steelers badly need a pass-rushing presence off the edge and an eventual heir to James Harrison. But in a draft that’s deep with such prospects they can wait until the second, third or perhaps even the fourth round to find their next college-defensive-end-to-NFL-outside-linebacker convert (a transition with which the Steelers are quite familiar).

They can get Peppers, potentially, because the draft is also overflowing with quality defensive backs, and because Peppers’ positive test for a diluted urine sample at the combine (not a terminal transgression, according to one NFL scout) might be enough to drop Peppers into the Steelers’ lap on the 30th overall selection.

If he’s still available at 30, the Steelers would be wise not to let him slide to 31.

They could write down “safety” on the card if they so chose. But they could put Peppers to work immediately in sub-package defenses, either as a slot-cornerback or a linebacker-type presence that can stuff the run and also cover. Peppers could also return punts, and even play offense if the Steelers wanted or needed him to run the ball out of a Wildcat or on a jet-sweep.

More and more, the NFL has begun to follow the Patriots’ lead and seek playmakers with match-ups in mind, and has become less concerned with where those playmakers are listed on the depth chart.

“I think it’s a great discussion,” Mike Tomlin acknowledged regarding the concept, as opposed to any particular player or team philosophy, this week. “We have spent a lot of time talking about it.

“They are different, varying animals in today’s football drafts, the tight end position being an example of it. I think you see the corresponding hybrid animals on the other side of the ball. You have cornerbacks who play like safeties. You have safeties who play like linebackers, etc. That is part of today’s football.”

If it becomes a part of the Steelers’ draft philosophy through Saturday, they might well emerge better for it (one of the numerous hybrid tight ends available would serve as insurance for Martavis Bryant and his suspensions and Ladarius Green and his concussions, for example).

The NFL Network’s Mike Mayock sees Peppers as inspiring reminders of Seattle All-Pro safety Earl Thomas “in the middle of the field, with the range from sideline to sideline, knocking people down.”

If Peppers does that often enough, does it really matter what he’s called?

Categories: Mike Prisuta’s Sports Section