Minimized by all the hyperbole and consternation surrounding the offseason trade between the Giants and the Browns has been the significance of the addition of safety Jabrill Peppers to the Giants' secondary. Peppers was the 25th overall choice in the 2017 NFL Draft, and legitimately so in the eyes of the Giants general manager Davie Gettleman. That didn't stop the critics.
"Well, I think those skeptics will realize the error of their ways when Peppers plays at a Pro Bowl level for the Giants this fall," NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks recently wrote.
Brooks made the comment in a piece about breakout players for the upcoming 2019 season, with Peppers drawing the most ink.
"Now, I know that statement will be met with some raised eyebrows, but the 5-foot-11, 213-pounder is coming off a solid season -- and, more importantly, he's joining a team with a scheme that should elevate his game," Brooks continued. "Giants defensive coordinator James Bettcher has a track record of putting playmakers in ideal spots to create chaos. Tyrann Mathieu earned first-team All-Pro honors under Bettcher back in 2015; the Honey Badger's deployment could serve as a blueprint for how Peppers will be used in New York. As a hybrid defender with experience playing all over the field from his days at Michigan (when was deployed as a free safety, strong safety, cornerback, nickel corner and linebacker), Peppers could occupy multiple roles in Bettcher's ultra-aggressive scheme."
The New Jersey native will make up a new-look defensive backfield. The Giants also signed 14-year veteran and Super Bowl champion Antoine Bethea, who had 121 tackles and a career-high three sacks last season in Arizona. The team then drafted seven players on defense out of 10 total picks, including three cornerbacks. Julian Love, a fourth-round pick, could even chip in at safety.
"In a Week 15 contest against the Denver Broncos last December," Brooks wrote, "Peppers amassed six tackles, two tackles for losses, a sack and an interception. That's the kind of production Peppers registered consistently in Ann Arbor, where he was utilized as a Swiss Army Knife in a defensive scheme that routinely placed him in prime playmaking positions. Considering Peppers also finished last season with back-to-back games featuring at least four tackles and a tackle for loss, the Giants are getting a player who appears to be settling into his role as a hybrid defender in the NFL."
The Giants begin organized team activities (OTAs) on Monday. While the veterans have already had three weeks on the field, it will be the first time the full offense goes against the full defense, rookies included. From what Bettcher has seen already, he would agree with Brooks' assessment on Peppers.
"Jabrill is a highly talented and ascending player in this league," Bettcher said last week. "A guy that has the flexibility to play strong safety and could come down in the box and play some money. He is a really talented blitzer, and when you watched his tape in Cleveland, you saw all the different roles he played. You saw snaps where he plays nickel, high in the middle of the field, high and outside, where he plays down low. A guy that has a lot of versatility. A guy that when he learns this system, he is going to have a lot of fun playing in this system."
This wasn't the first time he saw Peppers. When Peppers came out of college in 2017, Bettcher, then with the Cardinals, flew to Michigan and spent significant time with him ahead of the draft.
"I thought he was a dynamic kid and the people that were around him loved him," Bettcher said. "I got multiple texts from coaches that worked with him in Cleveland and it was not something I asked for; this was after we traded for him and they said that we were going to love him. He is going to work exceptionally hard and is going to be about what it is supposed to be about. You see him out here, we are doing stuff against the air and he is moving, sliding and running around. He is in a stance and sometimes you want to be like, slow down, this is on air. He is exciting."
Brooks' other breakout candidates are: RB Aaron Jones (Packers), OLB Harold Landry (Titans), WR Mike Williams (Chargers), RB Kenyan Drake (Dolphins) and MLB Anthony Walker (Colts).
"With that in mind, I believe Peppers is poised to have a breakout season this year," Brooks wrote. "He'll be the designated playmaker in a scheme that should accentuate his talents as a multi-dimensional defender. Given Bettcher's success with Deone Bucannon and Mathieu in Arizona, Peppers could really emerge as a critical part of the Giants' defensive puzzle."