Michigan Wolverines all-everything linebacker/defensive back/return man Jabrill Peppers was announced as one of five finalists to attend the Heisman Trophy ceremony. Peppers is the latest defensive player that will be a guest of the Downtown Athletic Club this coming Saturday.
His recent success doesn’t come as a surprise as he was one of the most exciting players in the country. Meeting the hype and his entertainment factor are good reasons why he made it as a finalist. It also helped that he played twelve positions despite not being dominant in any area. Although many offenses shied away from him, he had 72 tackles, five sacks, and one interception (which happened to be the first of his career). Peppers ranked 34th in the conference in sacks, 35th in interceptions and 32nd in tackles.
On offense, he enamored the country with a bevy of short runs on his way to 167 yards on 27 carries and three touchdowns. On special teams, he returned one punt for a touchdown.
Prior to being named as a finalist to win the Heisman Trophy, the New Jersey native won the Linebacker and Defensive Player of the Year awards in the Big Ten. Although Peppers cleaned up conference honors, are we sure he’s one of the best five players in the country? In fact, it’s up for debate if he’s one of the top five defenders in college football.
While it's likely that Peppers will not strike the pose, being invited is an accomplishment in itself. Having said that, here are three defensive players whose résumés stack up against the Heisman hopeful.
Adoree Jackson, USC CB/WR/PR/KR
Jackson wowed this season as he dominated the Pac-12. The star cornerback was a jack of all trades for the Trojans. While stranding wide receivers on an island, he also contributed as a wide receiver and return man. As a corner, Jackson was named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year.
He accumulated 51 tackles (including two tackles for a loss), 11 pass break-ups, four interceptions and a forced fumble.
In addition to his prowess at cornerback, he rushed for 49 yards and caught a touchdown. His impact further traveled on special teams where he returned two punts and two kicks for touchdowns. Furthermore, he is one of three finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, which is given to the nation’s top defensive back.
Unlike Peppers, Jackson excelled in meaningful games. His four interceptions came against four ranked teams and his three touchdown performance against Notre Dame hallmarked a would-be Heisman moment.
Jonathan Allen, Alabama, DL/LB
It's odd that someone from Alabama will not make the trip to New York for the Heisman ceremony.
While the Crimson Tide didn’t have a singularly dominant player on offense, their defense was fortunate to have Jonathan Allen- arguably the best defensive player in college football. The behemoth defensive end spearheaded one of the top rushing defenses in Division I/FBS. While his numbers may not be flashy, he totaled 56 tackles, 8.5 sacks, and two fumble returns for touchdowns.
Allen didn’t have Sportscenter-esque plays like Peppers, but he may have had a greater impact on his team and his conference than the Big Ten Defensive Player of The Year.
Malik Hooker, Ohio State FS
Hooker knows the feeling of being snubbed all too well. He lost the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year award in controversial fashion and was left off the Thorpe Award winner list. The ball-hawking safety has been compared to future Hall of Famer Ed Reed and Earl Thomas III of the Seattle Seahawks for his ability to cover and stuff the run. With Hooker spying on offenses, the Buckeyes had one of the best defenses in college football.
In his first year as a starter, he had one of the best seasons in Ohio State history. Hooker amassed 67 tackles (five of those for loss) and six interceptions, including three pick-6s. Hooker may have had just one fewer touchdown than Peppers, but he didn’t have to play offense or special teams to score. Instead, he separated himself from Peppers by making big plays in crucial moments. His interceptions and run-stuffing tackles helped catapult the Buckeyes into the College Football Playoff.