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Ten members of the 2016 Michigan Wolverines football roster have gone on to make stops with the New England Patriots.
Peppers, 26, had visited New England to begin the week after becoming an unrestricted free agent at the opening of the league year. The organization will now bet on versatility and familiarity finding room.
The Patriots stood with a crowded safety depth chart featuring 2020 top draft pick Kyle Dugger, re-signed team captain Devin McCourty and fellow veteran Adrian Phillips, who reached a three-year extension in January. The starting trio combined for north of 2,600 defensive downs along with 244 tackles and 11 interceptions last campaign.
Listed at 5-foot-11, 215 pounds, Peppers projects as a hybrid in their company who will compete a fourth spot in the rotation once cleared.
Peppers saw his 2021 season with the New York Giants end on injured reserve following a torn ACL and high ankle sprain in October. Prior to then, Pro Football Focus charted him for 32 snaps aligned as a defensive lineman, 60 snaps as a box linebacker, 107 snaps as a slot cornerback, 19 snaps as a wide cornerback and 11 snaps as a free safety.
Quarterbacks accrued a 121.9 passer rating when targeting Peppers’ coverage. He accrued seven pressures an 80.6 PFF grade in pass rush against them. How his positionless skillset translates in a secondary no longer featuring Pro Bowl cornerback J.C. Jackson remains to be seen.
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The opportunity for New England to find out is there.
Peppers, the former Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and Rodgers-Dwight Return Specialist of the Year, had won the Lott Trophy and the Paul Hornung Award while with the Wolverines. Roles were claimed on offense, defense and special teams in the process. The Heisman Trophy finalist declared as a redshirt sophomore and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.46 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine.
The Cleveland Browns selected Peppers at pick No. 25 overall in the first round back in 2017. Two springs later, he would be traded to the Giants. Connections overlapped.
Eliot Wolf, now New England’s director of scouting, served as Cleveland’s assistant general manager when Peppers was on the roster. Joe Judge, now back with New England as an offensive assistant, served as New York’s head coach when Peppers was a two-time captain on special teams. And ex-Patriots linebackers coach Patrick Graham also served as his assistant head coach and defensive coordinator before being hired by the Las Vegas Raiders this offseason.
Through 61 career games, Peppers has made 59 starts. A total of 333 tackles and 4.5 sacks have arrived along with four forced fumbles and four interceptions, including one runback for a touchdown.
In the kicking game, where the Patriots allowed 2020 first-team All-Pro Gunner Olszewski to depart as a restricted free agent this March, Peppers has also factored in. His résumé includes 693 yards on 83 punt returns and 749 yards on 34 kickoff returns.