Players sometimes arrive at a new destination having to live up to someone who just left the team. Jabrill Peppers is now charged with replacing not one but two popular Pro Bowl players on the Giants.
Not only is he taking over at safety for Landon Collins, who was allowed to walk away from the Giants to the Redskins in free agency, but also he comes to the Giants in the trade that sent Odell Beckham Jr. to the Browns. How much of an afterthought is he in that deal? Have you heard anyone refer to Tuesday’s blockbuster as the Jabrill Peppers trade?
So who is this newest Giant?
He’s actually a fairly accomplished player with a high ceiling. A product of New Jersey who grew up not too far from the Meadowlands, he played at both Don Bosco and Paramus Catholic in high school and won four state championships — two at each powerhouse. He attended Michigan, where he played mostly linebacker and was named the Big 10 defensive player of the year. The Browns drafted him with the 25th overall selection in the 2017 draft, but he was on the Giants’ radar at that time as well (they chose Evan Engram two spots ahead of the Browns). The Browns converted him to safety — at 213 pounds he’s a little undersized for a true linebacker— and also used his athleticism on special teams. Peppers returned 25 punts for 219 yards last year and 19 kicks for 408 yards.
Peppers will have a very different role in the defense than Collins had at strong safety. Defensive coordinator James Bettcher may even see him as a “moneybacker,” which is what he calls his second inside linebacker who can drop into coverage and rush the quarterback. That was a role played in Arizona by Deone Bucannon when Bettcher was the coordinator for the Cardinals. The Giants were very interested in Bucannon as a free agent, but he reportedly has agreed to sign with the Bucs instead. Bucannon, like Peppers, is just a good lunch over 210 pounds and certainly has experience at linebacker from college. It might be a fit. Then again, he might be a more traditional centerfield safety.
“We’re very excited to have Jabrill,” Giants general manager Dave Gettleman told Giants.com. “[He] is a quality safety in this league and he is a legitimate linchpin on the back end of your defense. The way this game is being played, your safeties are critical in pass defense.”
Besides Peppers, the Giants also received the Browns’ first-round pick in this coming draft (No. 17) and their third-round pick (95th overall). It also led to a slight adjustment on the terms of the trade the two teams agreed to last week when they swapped linebacker Olivier Vernon for guard Kevin Zeitler. In that previously-agreed-to-but-not-official-until-the-new-league-year deal, the Giants and Browns had exchanged picks. The Giants were going to send their fourth-rounder (132) and get the Browns’ fifth-rounder (155). Now, those two picks will remain with their original holder. So the whole thing can be looked at as one massive deal: The Giants gave Beckham and Vernon to the Browns for Peppers, Zeitler, and two top-100 picks (17 and 95 overall in the upcoming draft).
Peppers has two years remaining on his rookie contract and the Giants have an option for a third. That should give him enough time to either establish himself as a mainstay in the Giants’ secondary… or become a forgotten footnote from one of the most tumultuous weeks the Giants’ roster has ever seen.
And if, in a few years, even just a handful of people refer to Tuesday’s bombshell as the Jabrill Peppers trade, well, that would probably make it a successful homecoming for him.