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May 26, 2013

The Impact: Peppers to Michigan

Michigan has never reeled in the country's No. 2 player, so when Paramus (N.J.) Catholic cornerback Jabrill Peppers placed a block-M baseball cap on his head this afternoon, he was breaking new ground for the Maize and Blue. His commitment will have wide-ranging effects on Michigan's program and recruiting going forward.

In the team rankings

The No. 2 player in the nation is worth 233 points in the Rivals.com team rankings. That vaults Michigan from No. 8 nationally (1,043 points) to No. 4 (1,276 points). The Wolverines are within striking distance of not only No. 3 Tennessee, but also the two teams tied at the top in Notre Dame and Texas. In fact, the Irish and Longhorns each have 1,328 points, meaning that the Wolverines are just 52 points - less than the pledge of a low-three star player - from catching them at the top.

U-M has ten commitments to date - the same as Notre Dame. However, both Tennessee and Texas have 13 at this point, so U-M's points per commitment is significantly higher than either of those schools, demonstrating an emphasis on quality over quantity.

In the 2014 secondary

The first thing that is clear from Michigan' reeling in Peppers is that one cornerback spot is spoken for in the 2014 class. Since the overall numbers for the group will be down, competition is fierce for the other one to three spots in the secondary for the class. While that doesn't mean a rush for recruits to fill those spots, it could be one factor that accelerates the timeline for some players.

The only player with a Michigan offer who seems to be close to a commitment - while also favoring Michigan - is Bolingbrook (Ill.) cornerback Parrker Westphal. The 6-1, 195-pounder could play either safety or cornerback in college, and would be an excellent hybrid player should the Wolverines earn his commitment. Westphal plans to announce his college decision prior to the beginning of his high school team's fall camp.

If U-M reels in Westphal, there may be only one space remaining in the secondary. It could be either a safety or a cornerback, thanks to the versatility of both Peppers and Westphal, but would almost certainly go to an elite player. Prospects such as Gardena (Calif.) Serra five-star cornerback Adoree' Jackson and Long Beach (Calif.) Poly safety John "Juju" Smith are likely options.

In 2014 recruiting

Peppers' commitment directly affects the above, but also has indirect effects on the rest of U-M's 2014 recruiting class. Although he doesn't have direct connections to players such as Woodbridge (Va.) five-star defensive end Da'Shawn Hand, the current trend in recruiting is for top prospects to choose to play alongside other top prospects.

The U-M commits in the 2014 class - and those in the 2013 class before them - have poured their efforts into recruiting some of the nation's best talent to join them in Ann Arbor, and the opportunity to add Peppers to the unofficial welcoming committee is a huge boost. St. Clairsville (Ohio) linebacker Michael Ferns and Richmond (Va.) Collegiate School quarterback Wilton Speight have spearheaded commit recruiting in this class, and expect Peppers to join in.

The 6-1, 210-pounder can lock down the secondary, giving quarterbacks a second's hesitation when it comes to throwing the football. That gives elite defensive linemen more chances to make big plays behind the line of scrimmage. On defense more than anywhere else, excellent recruiting at each spot is a positive feedback loop.

Peppers won't simply recruit by his mere presence. He will be active on the trail himself.

In the community

Peppers is renowned for his football skill, but fans often need to be reminded that recruits aren't merely "football entities," but kids as well. Peppers is a model student and citizen according to Paramus Catholic head coach Chris Partridge, and fits the very definition of a Michigan Man.

Just as interesting is his ability as a musical artist. Going by the stage name J-Reall, Peppers has released several songs over the course of his rap career, and that alone creates interesting storylines. He's a multi-talented young man, and his wide range of abilities could lead to a career path in any or all of them once he leaves Ann Arbor.

On the field

The most important aspect of Peppers' commitment for Michigan fans is the ability he brings on the field. After all, his football ability is what drew hundreds of college coaches to Paramus Catholic in the past year and a half, and what is going to pay for his education.

The comparison has been made time and again - always with the caveat that it isn't meant to set unreasonably high expectations for Peppers - but he's strikingly similar to former Michigan Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson. Both are big corners with explosive athletic ability and the possibility of making an impact on offense.

At 6-1, 210 pounds, Peppers has excellent height to match up with the taller receivers that have become standard in modern college football. His height and overall length don't give up much to bigger wideouts. He has elite burst and quickness, and can turn his hips and run with receivers. From the corner position, he's the total package. That size also allows him to be an option at nickel or safety, and he'll always be a big-hitting corner. In an era where even NFL defensive backs regularly check in under 200 pounds, his 210 pounds will pack a punch.

He also has the versatility to contribute in other ways. Like Woodson, he's a high school running back. He runs with power, elusiveness, and most of all speed, and can make an impact with the ball in his hands. Even if he's never a full-time offensive player, he can enter for Wildcat packages, as a receiver, or even as a runner. Of course, those same skills translate to special teams, as well. He can returns kicks and punts or be a lethal coverage man when his team is kicking it away.

In terms of on-field impact, perhaps no player in the country can do as much as Peppers. Not only is he elite at those phases of the game in which he contributes, he can contribute in many of them, as well.

What's Next?

With Peppers in the fold, Michigan has filled a big need with the best player available. The 2014 recruiting class - which initially looked to have about 16 spots available - may swell to as many as 20, but is still already half-full at this point.

Peppers has brought the U-M coaching staff one (huge) step closer to meeting all needs and filling the 2014 class.


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