Jabrill Peppers' journey to New York as a Heisman Finalist
Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers was undoubtedly the most versatile player in college football this season. His work as a defensive back, linebacker, kick/punt returner, receiver and running back earned him nationwide recognition and praise.
The 6-foot-1, 205-pound junior from New Jersey didn’t just play multiple positions in 2016. He excelled at them.
As one of five finalists for the Heisman Trophy, Peppers got to add the experience of being on stage in contention for college football’s ultimate postseason honor to his list of accomplishments. Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson was announced as the winner.
Here’s a look back at the season that earned Peppers a trip to New York.
Week 1 vs. Hawaii: On defense, Peppers recorded eight tackles (including two for loss) and one sack in Michigan’s 63-3 win. He also impacted the return game, racking up two punt returns for 28 yards while reminding the college football world of his freakish athleticism with a hurdle of Hawaii’s punter. It was a taste of what fans could look forward to in 2016.
Week 2 vs. UCF: Peppers nearly had a repeat performance of Week 1, picking up eight more tackles (and two more for loss) while returning two punts for 46 yards in a 51-14 Michigan victory.
Week 3 vs. Colorado: In perhaps his most complete showing of the season against a Colorado team that would turn out to be very good, Peppers put his stamp on nearly every facet of the game. He ran twice for for 24 yards and returned two kicks for 81 yards. He had nine total tackles, including three for a loss and a sack. The signature moment came during one of his four punt returns (which netted him 99 yards total) which he took to the house for a 54-yard touchdown to seal the 45-28 Michigan victory.
Week 4 vs. Penn State: The first Big Ten game came against the eventual conference champions, and it was a 49-10 blowout victory for Michigan over Penn State. Peppers was quieter in this contest with just two total touches on returns and five tackles. His team got plenty of production from elsewhere.
Week 5 vs. Wisconsin: Points were at a premium in the Wolverines’ 14-7 win over Wisconsin, and Peppers had three touches on returns for 33 all-purpose yards. He had three tackles on defense.
Week 6 vs. Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights struggled mightily in 2016, but the trip out east was still special for Peppers. The East Orange, NJ, native told BTN’s The Journey that he could have gotten caught up in the “rough parts” during his childhood there, but stayed on a positive path to Michigan.
Peppers’ upbringing included his attempt to overcome his father’s stint in prison and dealing with the emotional toll of his older brother’s murder.
When Peppers returned to his home state and took the field in Michigan’s 78-0 demolition of Rutgers, he broke out offensively, rushing three times for 74 yards and two touchdowns.
Following his latest eye-opening performance, #Hei5man talk surrounding Peppers began to heat up.
Week 7: Bye week
Week 8 vs. Illinois: Peppers was relatively quiet in a 41-8 blowout of the Illini, but he did get a little loose in the return game, taking two kicks back for a total of 58 yards.
Week 9 at Michigan State: Peppers’ extreme versatility was on display again against the in-state rival Spartans. He rushed five times for 24 yards and a touchdown, recorded seven tackles and capped the 32-23 victory with this 2-point conversion return for the final two Wolverine points.
Week 10 vs. Maryland: Peppers totaled five tackles (one for loss) in Michigan’s 59-3 destruction of the Terps.
Week 11 at Iowa: Peppers racked up 35 yards on two returns, 11 yards on four rushes and five tackles in the Wolverines’ first loss of the season at Iowa.
Week 12 vs. Indiana: Peppers flexed his muscles on defense — five tackles (two for loss) — and in the return game, totaling 47 yards on four touches.
Week 13 at Ohio State: Peppers showed up big in The Game, wowing fans with a dynamic 44-yard kick return in the first half. He made seven tackles and snagged his first interception of the season, but his Wolverines fell 30-27 in double OT.
Peppers will have the opportunity to add to his individual stats when 10-2 Michigan faces 9-3 Florida State in the Orange Bowl, and his numbers up to this point highlight the wide-ranging impact he had this season. Via Sports Reference:
- 27 rushes for 167 yards (6.2 average) and three TDs
- 10 kick returns for 260 yards (26.0 average)
- 21 punt returns for 310 yards (14.8 average) and a TD
- 740 all-purpose yards with four total TDs
- 66 tackles (13 for loss), three sacks, one interception
His postseason honors include:
- Big Ten Linebacker of the Year
- Big Ten Return Specialist of the Year
- All-Big Ten First Defensive Team
- All-Big Ten Special Teams First Team
- Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year
- Paul Hornung Award (nation’s most versatile player)
- Walter Camp First-Team All-American
- Heisman Trophy Finalist
And of course, Peppers joined Lamar Jackson, Deshaun Watson, Baker Mayfield and Dede Westbrook as Heisman finalists in New York City Saturday night.