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Peppers returns for an encore

Posted Mar 6, 2017

Hybrid defender highlights impressive collection of secondary prospects.

Highlights from today’s NFL Network coverage of on-field workouts for defensive backs at the NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis:

HIM AGAIN: Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers worked out with the defense backs, a day after working out with the linebackers on Sunday.

“He might be the best quote ‘football player’ in the entire class,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock assessed. “He lines up everywhere. The only thing I’ve got to do is go back to his freshman year and find out if I think he can play that deep-middle and get to a deep-half and (deep-) third. I know he’s fast enough to do it. I’m just talking about unlocking hips and running and ball skills. I love him, I’m just trying to figure it out.”

Peppers primarily played linebacker last season at Michigan but projects as an NFL safety at 5-foot-107/8 and 213 pounds.

He wore an “LB 24” jersey, as he had on Sunday, while participating in defensive backs drills.

“Look at this guy, lights up a room,” Mayock said. “I could watch this kid all day long.”

Added NFL Network analyst Deion Sanders: “A man amongst boys. Peppers is a big dude, man.”

DOUBLE-SHIFT: Peppers had explained on Sunday why he was participating at two positions.

“It’s not that I didn’t want to work out with the linebackers, they just weren’t going to let me do the defensive backs work unless I did the linebackers work,” he said.

Peppers was officially clocked at 4.46 in the 40-yard dash.

“I think a team’s gonna take you in the first round,” Mayock told Peppers. “They can line you up at deep-middle and you can go sideline-to-sideline like an Earl Thomas. They can drop you down on the slot, either in nickel or just in base defense. And, on third-and-4, if they’re playing the Pittsburgh Steelers and they want you to cover Le’Veon Bell in the sub-package, you can do that, too. Would you agree or disagree?”

Peppers’ response: “I would absolutely, 100-percent agree with that. Probably they could throw me into a few more situations, the sky’s the limit. A little punt return, kickoff return, punt coverage, anything I can do to prove myself and help the team, that’s what I’m gonna do.”

PLENTY TO CHOOSE FROM: Peppers wasn’t the only defensive back who impressed.

Mayock characterized the crop on display as probably the best he’s seen in 10 years.

“If you need a corner or you need a safety, this is the year to get healthy,” Mayock said.

NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said he had 10 cornerbacks rated in his top-50 players.

“I can’t recall ever seeing anything like that, it is absolutely loaded,” added Jeremiah, who said the safety group was the best he’d scouted since 2003.

The 60 defensive backs at the Combine represented the largest position group.

“I was told this is the strength of this draft,” the NFL Network’s Kim Jones reported. “One longtime NFL observer told me, “This is the best cornerback and safety class I’ve seen in more than a decade.”

Mayock noted 21 of the 36 cornerbacks in attendance were 6-foot or taller.

“And when they’re running mid-4.4s, it really catches your eye,” he said.

SECONDARY SIGNIFICANCE: Sanders addressed speculation that New England quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo might wind up in Cleveland while working toward a point about the importance of a good defensive backfield during a conversation with Mayock.

Sanders: “The Cleveland Browns are the worst team in the (AFC North) division. You’re not going to take Garoppolo and you just turn it around instantaneously. This is something that’s going to take three to five years to fix.”

Mayock: “All I’m saying is at some point, the most important position in the game is quarterback and they don’t have one.”

Sanders: “Quarterback is the most important position, I truly believe that, but defensive backs make or break a team. When we all ranted and raved about the wonderful comeback of the New England Patriots (in Super Bowl LI), somebody was on the other side of that. There’s a whole secondary for the Atlanta Falcons that you gotta kind of fix.

“These guys will make a tremendous difference in wins and losses. You always need a DB. There’s no team you can say does not need a defensive back.”

Mayock: “Your sub-packages are on the field 70 percent of the time in today’s NFL, which means there are five and six defensive backs in on every formation. They’re starters.”