Scouting Profile | S Jabrill Peppers vs. S Delano Hill

The most polarizing figure in this year’s draft is University of Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers, hands down. On one side, fans and scouts will argue that he is a versatile player. They will give you comparisons to Tyrann Mathieu or even Troy Polamalu. The other side will point out that Peppers wasn’t elite at any one thing, rather just solid across the board. They’ll say he doesn’t have the skills to be a pure safety or the size to be a linebacker.

It is my opinion that as good of an athlete as Peppers is, he is not a pure safety. He’s a player whom defensive coordinator Don Brown wanted on the field, so he found a role for him, and Peppers showed up! He finished the season with 66 total tackles, three sacks, and one interception. But to get the most out of him (while hiding his weaknesses) at the next level, his coordinator will have to be creative.

And you know what? That’s ok.

But if you want a true safety, then you don’t have to look far. When you turn on the Michigan film, you will see his teammate, safety Delano Hill, consistently making plays. He may not have the ceiling or elite athleticism that Peppers does, but he is a safer pick. He is an NFL safety, a guy whose film is very good, a leader on and off the field. You know what you are getting with him, and that is consistency.

Motion changes the coverage. Hill is all over it and makes sure the corners know.

 

 

So let’s put these two players side by side, because both have some very good traits. I have a sneaking suspicion, though, that one will be drafted much higher than the other.

In Don Brown’s first season as defensive coordinator, he led Michigan right to the top of the defensive rankings. They only allowed 261.8 yards per game, and that was not just because of talent. Brown is a creative and aggressive play caller. He put his players in positions to succeed.

For example, take this defensive play call. Peppers was often utilized as a fringe/box player. Part of the reasons Peppers never excelled at any one given thing was the sheer number of hats he wore. This definitely stunted his growth in terms of processing run to pass, diagnosing the proper keys, and just an overall feel for play. However, if you put him just outside the box in a spy role and with the freedom to read the QB’s eyes, then his athleticism will be maximized without jeopardizing the structure of the play.

On the following play, Peppers had zero coverage responsibilities; the defense brings pressure and plays man coverage with a single high safety on the back end. The Michigan defense was talented enough in the secondary, so Peppers could read the QB’s eyes and just use his natural instincts. The QB decides to take off on third down, and Peppers forces fourth down.

This play also exemplifies what Hill was asked to do at Michigan. Much like this play, in the NFL Hill will be matched up with tight ends frequently. Brown was so confident in Hill’s abilities that he often matched Hill up versus opposing tight ends and receivers in the box and in the slot. Hill is really good at pressing, disrupting and getting into the hip pocket of offensive players.

 

Hill is 6’1″, 216 pounds with a 32 1/8 arm length, and he ran the forty yard dash in 4.47 seconds. He has the prototypical body of an NFL safety. He has the length and speed to stay with most tight ends. On this play, the primary receiver is the tight end, but Hill does a great job of disrupting and not allowing him to separate.

On the very same play, Peppers inserts into the box and is again spying the quarterback. As the QB leaves the pocket, Peppers ‘fires his gun’ and forces the QB to get rid of it.

 

Now let’s flip the script and see how Peppers does against tight ends in man coverage. Jabrill is aligned as the Sam linebacker, i.e. to the strength of the offensive formation. On the snap, Peppers does not disrupt the release. In fact, he doesn’t even get his 30 3/4 inch arms on the player, at all. The QB executes a nice fake, and it causes Peppers to hesitate and peek into the backfield. This one of his biggest flaws. Of course, that gives the tight end quite a lot of separation and puts Peppers in chase mode.

Hill is the field safety who blitzes. Based on the assignments by #9 (chases tailback after recognizing it’s a pass), my guess was that Hill had the FB in man coverage, but since that player blocked, Hill brought the pain. He comes downhill smoothly and under control, takes a great angle to the QB, and lays a lick. If he doesn’t cause the pressure, I think Peppers’s assignment would’ve been wide open.

 

I don’t want to paint the picture that Peppers can’t cover tight ends or running backs, because he can. On this play, Peppers quickly recognizes the play action pass, sticks with the H-back, and eliminates him as an option.

Hill also stays disciplined. He recognizes the fake, takes an angle to the nearest threat, then gets downhill to contain the QB on the run/pass option.

Now let’s take a look at a play from the Iowa game where both players held their own. Hill and Peppers are equally as good in coverage in confined spaces, especially if in man coverage. Both do a very good job on this play, and Hill gets a piece of the pass. Hill finished with three interceptions and five pass deflections in his collegiate career.

 

I believe that Peppers’s and Hill’s struggles in coverage are very similar in nature. Both tend to struggle at the tops of routes, due to a hitch in explosion. It is very odd, considering both tested really well in their vertical and three cone drills, but on film it was quite apparent. Like a good coach should, Brown built the coverage structures to protect Peppers and Hill. He ran a lot of combo coverages. This allowed Peppers and Hill to work together to use angles to shut down receivers, rather than lose one on one match ups. Here’s an example of that:

The corners on the perimeter are locked in man coverage, so Peppers and Hill are running a read coverage. The routes by the receivers will determine who they cover. As the running back runs an out, Hill avoids the rub, takes a great angle on the back, and wraps him up to force a fourth down.

Here’s another example of Brown scheming to protect his talented defenders. Ohio State comes out in a 2×2 set. Their best corner, Jourdan Lewis, is manned up to the field. Peppers and Hill are running a combo coverage on the slot WR. If the slot WR runs any kind of in-breaking route, then Hill will get downhill and make a play on it, while Peppers replaces him deep.

If Brown trusted Peppers in man coverage, then why didn’t he just run man across the board? It is because he didn’t want Peppers matched up against the talented Curtis Samuel. If put in straight man coverage, then Peppers’s minor inability to transition from backpedal to running would be exploited and could’ve lead to a big play.

Both players drop, and as the receiver curls it up, Hill plants and zones in for a big hit on the receiver. The pressure causes the throw by Barrett to sail, and Peppers, who was bailing, gets the interception.

 

Overall, I believe that Hill has better awareness and instincts than Peppers when in coverage in space. His experience and knowledge of how teams want to attack coverage structures through the air is superior. He only allowed 22 receptions out of 39 targets, two TDs, and 266 yards through the air in 2016. Here, Hill does a great job of baiting the quarterback to throw to the slant.

 

The distinction between the two players, overall (outside of Peppers’s offensive and return abilities), is their relative ability to tackle. Peppers’s tackling abilities were maximized in the box. He had plenty of opportunities against the run last season because he was simply in or near the box more often.

That put him in prime position to make a lot of run stops. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Peppers was 8th in run stop percentage, registering 37 solo tackles and 20 stops.

When he was in the box AND kept clean, he was able to shoot gaps.

But if the offense accounted for Peppers in the blocking scheme, then he just didn’t possess the ability to consistently stack and shed blocks. You see both at work on the following play.

Hill worked from a lot of single high and two high sets, often rotating down late, post-snap. When he recognizes run, he gets downhill and makes form tackles on play after play. Hill finished the 2016 season with 27 tackles versus the run and 11 stops.

 

Overall, tackling ability definitely goes to Hill. He finished as the 5th highest (14.5) in combined tackling efficiency. When he gets ahold of the offensive player, he doesn’t let go. That is a trait that you want your safety to possess, as he is the team’s last line of defense.

 

Peppers wasn’t awful, but his tackling in the passing game was five points below Hill’s, and it brought his combined tackling efficiency down to 10.7, which put him much further down the list.

Potential Bills Fit:

Both of these Wolverines are going to be solid players at the next level. If Peppers lands with the right team, then I believe that he will make an immediate impact. He needs to land with a team and coordinator who are creative. I think he would fit best on a 3-4 team in which he is able to be moved around, making it difficult for offenses to account for him. But based on his athleticism, contributions in the return game, and even the possibility of throwing him on offense at running back, Peppers could go on day one of the draft. This makes it seem like Peppers will be a boom or bust situation. But based on the Bills’ defensive structure, I don’t think he is a clear cut fit in McDermott and Frazier’s scheme.

Overall Grade:83.333-2nd round

Hill, on the other hand, has more skills that translate into the Bills’ defensive scheme. He has the prototypical size and skills to play as a deep or split field defender. If you need him in the box to cover tight ends (you need this ability in the AFC East), he is very good at disrupting the releases in the box or in the slot. But most of all, he is a consistent and dependable tackler. That is something that McDermott has preached since day one. He’s such a physical player and good tackler, I could even see him getting playing time in the box in nickel or three safety looks. I have a third round grade on Hill, though he will probably go later than the third because he doesn’t flash the upside or a high ceiling that other safeties in this class do. However, I think he could start immediately on the back end of the Bills’ defense.

Overall Grade:76.2389-3rd round

 

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