What Patriots Are Getting In Free-Agent Signing Jabrill Peppers

The Patriots know Peppers well

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The Patriots made an intriguing, low-risk addition to their secondary Tuesday, reportedly signing free agent safety Jabrill Peppers to a one-year contract worth up to $5 million.

Here are six things to know about New England’s newest defensive back:

— The Patriots have familiarity with Peppers. The 26-year-old spent the last two seasons playing under Joe Judge with the New York Giants. Judge was the Patriots’ longtime special teams coordinator before taking the Giants’ head-coaching job, then returned to New England as an offensive assistant this offseason.

Peppers was a Giants team captain in 2020 and 2021.

“(Peppers) puts so much into the team, puts the team first, does everything you ask him to do to the best of his ability, brings so much juice to the team, is a productive player on the field, wears so many hats for you as a team,” Judge told New York reporters last October. “It’s always, ‘Whatever you need, Coach, here I go.’ “

Peppers also overlapped with Patriots director of scouting Eliot Wolf for one season with the Cleveland Browns, who drafted the safety in the first round in 2017.

— Peppers played at one of the Patriots’ favorite college programs: Michigan. New England has selected four ex-Wolverines in the last three NFL drafts, including three on the defensive side (Chase Winovich, Josh Uche and Cameron McGrone).

Uche was thrilled to see Peppers come aboard.

At Michigan, Peppers was a three-phase player, starring as a hybrid linebacker and as a return man while also seeing action at running back/wildcat quarterback (45 carries, five touchdowns in his career). According to a 2017 profile by The Ringer’s Kevin Clark, Peppers played snaps at 11 different positions in college. The Patriots love players with that type of versatile background.

— Versatility is the main draw with Peppers, who played all over the field for Judge in New York.

Via Pro Football Focus, here were Peppers’ positional splits from 2020, his most recent full season:

Box: 383 snaps
Slot: 264
Free safety: 143
Defensive line: 77
Wide cornerback: 44

In 2021, he primarily played as a slot defender before a torn ACL ended his season in Week 7:

Slot: 107 snaps
Box: 60
Defensive line: 32
Wide cornerback: 19
Free safety: 11

The Patriots already have two standout hybrid safeties in Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips, plus the ever-reliable Devin McCourty patrolling the back end, so it’s unclear exactly how they plan to use Peppers. But he’ll bring positional flexibility and athleticism to a New England secondary that, while well-stocked at safety, currently is lean on cornerback talent.

New England signed two veteran corners earlier in free agency (Malcolm Butler and Terrance Mitchell) but lost Pro Bowler J.C. Jackson.

— Speaking of Peppers’ athleticism, he ran a 4.46 40-yard dash with a 128-inch broad jump at 5-foot-11, 213 pounds at the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine — numbers that show both impressive speed and lower-body explosiveness. His physical fitness will be a question mark coming off a major knee injury, but he reportedly is expected to be ready to participate by the start of training camp.

— Coverage isn’t Peppers’ forte.

Though he tallied a career-high seven passes defended in 2020 (one interception, six PBUs), he allowed the fourth-most receiving yards (499) of any NFL safety, per PFF. In his injury-shortened 2021 campaign, opposing QBs posted an 82.6% completion rate and 121.9 passer rating when targeting him, averaging 11.8 yards per completion.

— Even if Peppers can’t carve out a role in the Patriots’ defensive back rotation, he could fill an important void on special teams. New England lost its primary punt returner when Gunner Olszewski signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Peppers has plenty of experience in that area, returning 83 punts over his five-year pro career and 39 more at Michigan.

Peppers also was Cleveland’s top-choice kick returner early in his career, though he hasn’t been used in that role since 2019. He fumbled seven times on returns over his first two seasons — a potential red flag for a Patriots team that prioritizes ball security — but has none since.

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