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Safety Jabrill Peppers: The Good, The Great, and the Ugly

Safety Jabrill Peppers' improvement last year mostly flew under the radar, but Nick Falato is here to point out just how much growth Peppers showed from his first year in Giants blue to his second.

I am slightly distressed about Jabrill Peppers’ contractual standing with the New York Football Giants, not because of his 2021 cap hit--that I love--but he’s currently playing on his fifth-year option. He will become a free agent unless something getting done before the end of the season.

Assistant general manager and cap specialist Kevin Abrams has already expressed concern about the Giants’ 2022 cap situation, so Peppers isn’t a lock to be in New York beyond this season.

It’s an uneasy feeling for a simple reason: Jabrill Peppers is a good football player, and he’s only developing and coming into his own as a 25-year-old. He’s coming off his best season, and, with defensive coordinator Patrick Graham’s tutelage, the sky's the limit for the East Orange product.

According to Pro Football Focus, Peppers is coming off a 62 tackle, 27 STOP, 7 PBU, and one interception season. He also allowed 46 catches on 67 targets for 499 yards and two touchdowns (one being the devastating score against Boston Scott that helped the Eagles secure the Week 7 game in Philadelphia).

Peppers has gotten better in pass coverage and continues to thrive in run support. Defenses love to employ lighter, quicker personnel by putting safeties in the box as a "STAR" while using more big dime, big nickel, and dollar types of formations.

Peppers has done this well for the Giants; he’s aligned 383 times in the box during 2020, the most of any other alignment. Here’s Peppers’ edition of the Good, the Great, and the Ugly.

The Good: Better Man Coverage

I criticized Peppers' abilities in man coverage during the 2019 season because I saw a player that was a bit indecisive and who didn’t always trust his positioning or assignments. Development isn’t always linear (Alright, Georg Hegel), but a more fitting play-caller can undoubtedly enhance development.

**Insert Patrick Graham into the equation**

Former defensive coordinator James Bettcher’s pattern match led to many mistakes in the secondary. It also didn’t help that Peppers injured his back down the stretch of the season.

However, the evolution with coverage and confidence that Peppers seemed to develop under Graham gives me a lot of confidence in this young safety, especially with Logan Ryan's presence on the roster.

Peppers is inside the No. 3 receiver. He does a good job establishing the correct leverage versus 2x2 and 3x1 sets. The young safety doesn’t get out of phase and undercuts the route to force a tough throw and catch on this play.

Peppers senses the cross, closes on the receiver’s inside hip, flips his own hips, opens his stride, stays in phase, gets his head around, and forces Tom Brady to throw a low pass away from his coverage.

This is a different alignment for the offense and Peppers, but it’s still a 3x1 set. Peppers is up on the line of scrimmage against Logan Thomas, and he jams him up well.

Thomas does a good job leaning into the contact to create extra separation at the break. Peppers does an excellent job staying on that inside hip and not allowing separation while playing through the catch point to force an incompletion.

The positioning, physicality, and athletic ability on display are great to see from Jabrill Peppers.

Peppers is on the backside receiver Logan Thomas while Washington is in a 3x1 BUNCH set. He’s aligned inside of Thomas and waits for the commitment inside before he limits the space.

Once Thomas starts his drag, Peppers attacks the outside hip, keeps his hands on Thomas, eyes on Brady, and doesn’t allow the receiver to create any separation.

Thomas uses his big frame to almost come down with the football, but Peppers gets his hand into the catch point to force the incompletion.

This is a man coverage rep from the apex defender spot on shifty wide receiver Scottie Miller. The Giants show zone pre-snap, but the field side runs a man type of coverage, and Peppers runs stride for stride with Miller, cutting off the receivers’ angle to the sideline.

Peppers gets inside of the route and whips his head and arm around at the last second to take away the back-shoulder throw. This is a very aware and athletic play from Peppers, who seems to be playing much better in man coverage this year.

This is a clear and obvious push-off from one of the best receivers at pushing off in Mike Evans. But watch the technique of Peppers against Evans; he’s inside and starts his backpedal while watching Evans’ hips.

Evans acts as if he’s running a deep horizontal cross, and Peppers was in an excellent position to undercut and eliminate that route. Peppers is about to flip his hips before Evans hits him with a hard push-off and turns the route into a curl.

The positioning on the route was solid, and it seems Peppers’ reactionary quickness is much improved from last year, which assists his man coverage ability.


MORE "GOOD, GREAT & UGLY" BREAKDOWNS

WR Kelvin Benjamin | RB Devontae Booker | RB Corey Clement | OLB Lorenzo Carter | CB Isaac Yiadom | TE Kaden Smith | WR Kenny Golladay | TE Levine Toilolo | Edge Ifeadi Odenigbo | DT Danny Shelton | OL Zach Fulton | CB Adoree' Jackson | TE Evan Engram


The Great: Run Support

I tweeted this after being very impressed with Peppers' run supportability; he is no liability when fitting the run, and he can perform this task from multiple alignments. I’ll put up some more GIFs and break them down, but please enjoy the 1:32 seconds of Peppers being a stud against the run posted above this paragraph.

Some of the plays I’m going over are in the tweet, but I want to write about some. Peppers has a knack for beating blockers because of his quickness, and his decision-making process has become faster, which only helped in 2020.

We can see that above against Dallas. The two tight ends are double-teaming Markus Golden, and it’s their responsibility to come off the double team when the second-level defender presents himself, but Peppers never really gives the tight ends that opportunity.

Peppers sees the blocks, finds the hole, sets up outside, and flies into a tackling position to secure the tackle on Ezekiel Elliot for minimal gain.

Here’s a counter run, and Peppers is the strong-side linebacker. He reads the counter, replaces Kyler Fackrell, who goes a bit upfield, sets up about a half-yard behind the line of scrimmage to keep the path narrow while establishing outside leverage to allow Martinez to scrape over the top and make a tackle.

Peppers also goes low on the lead blocker and creates the traffic to assist with the tackle.

Peppers has also made many tackles as a backside pursuit defender, primarily due to hustle, understanding of angles, and his sure tackling ability.

The Bears run outside zone, and Peppers waits for the backside guard to engage in the double team before he goes underneath the block and makes another impressive tackle.

It’s not just within the box that Peppers can negatively impact offensive rushing attacks, but also on the outside. The Cowboys get creative and use an end-around to Amari Cooper, but Peppers wasn’t fooled.

Peppers' patience and diagnosing skills are better in 2020, especially against the run. This is great for Peppers, who already possesses excellent pursuit skills and good tackling technique. He avoids the majority of the first block and outruns the lead blocking tight end to cut the angle of Cooper off and make an aggressive tackle.

This technically isn’t run support, but it’s open-field tackling ability - something that Peppers does well. Tampa Bay attempts to set up a screen to the field side where Peppers is the curl/flat defender. Peppers does a great job and takes a smart path to attack Leonard Fournette in space.

He gets to his depth and widens when he starts attacking downhill. By doing this, the lead blockers could never get in front of Fournette. 

Peppers sets up outside, forcing Fournette back inside towards rallying defenders, and then makes the impressive open-field tackle while avoiding offensive linemen with momentum. Peppers also impacts the zone-read game well when he’s patrolling the box and line of scrimmage.

Former college quarterback, now tight end, Logan Thomas runs this zone-read for Washington. Kyler Fackrell does a good job crashing inside and taking out the pulling backside guard. Peppers is put into a position where he has to choose which defender to eliminate; get sucked too far inside, then J.D. McKissic has nothing but space.

Peppers allows Thomas to feel comfortable keeping the ball, but Peppers’ athleticism can’t be doubted in these short areas. He quickly diagnoses the keep and swings inside to make an aggressive tackle for a loss showing an exceptional change of direction, ability, and control.

Peppers is in space on this zone-read and does such a good job giving nothing to Jalen Hurts. He stays square on Hurts and flows laterally to expand the rookie quarterback horizontally, surrendering very little and not giving the athletic runner any space to juke.

This is great technique right here from Peppers. He breaks down, comes to balance, flows to the outside hip, forces inside, and boxes Hurts while making the tackle. This ability to not be a liability is imperative for success in modern defenses.

The Ugly: Overzealous

In one year, Peppers got better with his tunnel vision and his knack for not fully seeing route combinations. His 2019 to 2020 jump is very impressive, but there were still times where his aggressiveness would get the best of him.

I like what I saw from Peppers in 2020, so there isn’t much ugly to point out, but this was one play that reminded me of the 2019 mistakes.

It’s a well-designed fake screen, with pre-snap motion from the backside, that gets Peppers to bite hard on the fake, leaving a player streaking downfield after another player occupied the first deep vertical.

Peppers quickly realized his mistake, but his aggressiveness was a bit too much to allow him to return to the proper position and be in phase with the receiver.

There was also the Boston Scott touchdown that wasn’t necessarily a mental mistake in terms of recognizing coverage, rather a mental mistake in terms of technique.

Scott releases on the delayed wheel route, and Peppers is not in a terrible position, but he does an inferior job at the catch point. He goes up with his outside hand, which is the wrong technique, and he fails to get his head around to locate the football.

By going up with his outside hand, instead of his inside hand, he fails to have any contingency if he misses. If he were to go up with his inside hand, then he could have his outside arm as a failsafe.

Also, he could use that outside arm to subtly control and establish a better position on Scott while jumping up and locating the ball with his inside hand, eyes up to locate. Simple mistakes like these are preventable but do still occur in Peppers’ game.

Overall, I value Jabrill Peppers and think Logan Ryan, Xavier McKinney, and I think they can be a formidable trio for the next few years.

I also hope to see Peppers in blue well beyond that. 


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