The San Francisco 49ers find themselves in need of talent all over the board, and that could (and probably should) result in a best player available strategy next April. If that is the case, one player who some have championed is Michigan defensive player Jabrill Peppers. Whether it be the No. 2 pick or moving back to grab him, he has a growing fan base.
I refer to him as a defensive player rather than by position because there have been a lot of questions about where he will fit in at the NFL level. He plays a form of linebacker at Michigan, but he is too small (6’1, 205 pounds) to play linebacker in the NFL. He could certainly bulk up some, but I’m not sure it would be enough to play the linebacker role.
There are questions about his coverage skills as well, which would take away cornerback and a center field safety role. And so, it would appear strong safety could be the consensus position for him. This does not mean a team cannot get creative and try something else, but it seems like strong safety is a position that will be mentioned regularly for him. And the most recent example comes from friend of the site, Matt Miller. The Bleacher Report draft analyst posted his Week 13 scouting notebook, and in the mailbag portion, he answered a question about what position Peppers would play in the NFL. Miller said he would rank him among the strong safeties for three reasons:
1. Peppers is too small to play linebacker. He's listed at 6'1" and 205 pounds, which makes Telvin Smith look huge at 6'3" and 218 pounds. And Smith is the smallest linebacker I've seen in the NFL this season.
2. Peppers isn't a cornerback. He's not fluid enough. He is a great athlete and is straight-line fast, but his ability to flip his hips and run with receivers down the field is not a strength. That stiffness in coverage is why he's playing more linebacker this season.
3. Peppers is a great returner, and he's electric with the ball in his hands, but he's not Charles Woodson, and he's not Tyrann Mathieu. He might be closer to Landon Collins, but even Collins has a bigger, fuller frame to hang in the box with NFL offenses.
The 49ers safeties are currently (when healthy) Eric Reid and Antoine Bethea, with Jaquiski Tartt serving as the primary backup. Marcus Cromartie, Vinnie Sunseri, and recently promoted Marcus Ball are options as well. Cornerback Jimmie Ward has been mentioned in the past as an option at some point, but he seems to be settling in at cornerback for the time being.
Bethea and Reid are both free agents after the 2017 season. The team exercised their 2017 option on Reid, and while he is coming off the biceps injury, the option is cheap enough that it would be a surprise if the team decided to not keep him around next season.
But, they need to consider their long-term options. It is hard to make any draft predictions normally, but with Trent Baalke likely on the hot seat, there are even more question marks surrounding what the 49ers will choose to do with any of their picks. But we can speculate, or at least offer wild guesses!