It's a fair statement that if you don't know who Jabrill Peppers is, then you either don't follow Michigan Football or you don't follow college football in general. Seemingly since he was recruited, he has been one of the most hyped-up and talked about players in the nation, earning a reputation as two-way player that can fill multiple positions on the field in any given game.
This has led to a lot of fanfare and attention for the young man, especially given that he plays for the University of Michigan, a school long thought by many incorrectly to be "irrelevant" given its lack of success on a conference or national basis from 2008-2014. Things have turned for the better in a huge way with the hiring of Jim Harbaugh as head coach, and Peppers has been a great beneficiary of that as has the entire Michigan football team.
But it's safe to say that if Harbaugh is the most publicized figure for Michigan Football, Peppers is right behind him in terms of attention. ESPN has dedicated great focus to him several times the past two seasons, counting how many snaps he's taken, how many positions he has played in one game and coming close to dedicating an entire camera to following him on the field and the sidelines.
So the question is, does Jabrill Peppers deserve this much hype and in turn, does he deserve to be one of the five finalists for the Heisman Trophy? That's where the sparks fly and you start to get into trouble with people on the subject.
Statistically speaking, Peppers doesn't stand out. He just doesn't, that's the truth. He has one interception in the Ohio State game at the end of the year, three sacks and 66 tackles on defense to go with 170 yards and three touchdowns on offense plus a punt return for a touchdown against Colorado. This is usually when someone will come in and say that he should have had three touchdowns, given that he fell at the five-yard line on a return against Penn State and had a punt return touchdown called back for a phantom block in the back against Rutgers, but those obviously don't count.
When you compare Peppers number-wise to QB Lamar Jackson at Louisville or QB Deshaun Watson at Clemson, there's no contest. The QB's are always going to have the better stats no matter what. That's what the Peppers detractors are going to hit you with mostly, that he didn't make enough of a contribution statistically to warrant being a Heisman candidate. Then they'll add that his versatility kept him from standing out at any one position. In fact, many will argue that Peppers isn't even the best player on his own defense and while he had potential to be the best running back, he was never used exclusively enough in that manner to make it work longer term.
The Peppers defenders really only have one angle, and that is the versatility. It can't be denied that his presence in the game on offense was something that teams had to actively adjust for, even if the plays called for him didn't amount to much on the scoresheet. He clearly was part of many teams' defensive strategies against Michigan which whether he was used on offense effectively or not, still allowed Michigan an exploitable opportunity to keep a defense off balance. How much it actually worked or not is debatable, but it still existed.
Depending on who you read or who you listen to on the radio, you'll get a different opinion on this. Some bloggers and personalities on the Internet are singing Peppers' praises, while other radio personalities local to the state of Michigan spend entire shows dedicated to talking about how ridiculous his Heisman candidacy is and how it is some kind of disgrace to the nature of the award and how it is given out. There is an ultimate bottom line here and it lies within college football itself if you really think about it.
Jabrill Peppers is a fantastic player. Period. Anyone that thinks otherwise is either being an outright hater or incredibly foolish. Or both. The thing is that his "campaign" comes in a year where the Heisman candidates are not nearly as definitive or alluring as they have been in the past. Last year it was a clear three-man race between Alabama RB Derrick Henry, Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey and Clemson QB Deshaun Watson and all of those players had the stats to make their arguments. This year, even though Jackson has been all-world with his numbers, he plays on a three-loss Louisville team that doesn't move the needle in the bigger markets and didn't play for an ACC or national championship this season. Watson's got solid numbers, but Clemson was arguably a more dominant team last year and people have seen that. After them, who's attractive enough to move the needle in the discussion? JT Barrett? His passing numbers are down. McCaffrey? He's been injured AND his numbers are down. Same could be said for RB Leonard Fournette at LSU, a team that underwent coaching turmoil this season.
So when it comes right down to it, as solid a player as Jabrill Peppers is, he is benefitting from a great publicity campaign to hype him up in a year where there are no clear cut runaways for the Heisman Trophy. Marketing is a part of winning the award, make no mistake about it and Michigan and the media outlets have done a fantastic job of marketing Peppers and his skills to to the nation. It was more than enough to get him invited to New York, but it almost certainly won't be enough for him to win it.
As much as I could sit here and tell you that it makes no sense statistically for Jabrill Peppers to be a Heisman Trophy candidate, I have no desire to do so because I have a life and I like being happy. I won't take anything away from the young man at all and I while I don't think he has a shot at winning it, I wish him the best of luck this weekend and we will see how the votes fall. Rest assured, if he does win it somewhat miraculously, my life won't be ruined and I sure as hell won't consider it a sham. I'll let the other overly-pathetic people on the radio and in the media stoke the fire on that one.
I might have written this on the heels of listening to one of them, yes. If you live in the Detroit area, it won't take you that long to figure it out.