If you told me before the season started for Michigan Football that star athlete, Jabrill Peppers could take home the 2016 Heisman Trophy, I would have probably slapped you and called you absolutely crazy.
Yes, I know that Peppers was on the Heisman Watch and he was one of the most versatile athletes in 2015 but, the odds are stacked against a pure “defensive” player taking home the trophy.
Ok, let’s think about it for a second. Nineteen of the previous twenty Heisman winners has either been won by a quarterback or a running back. Ironically, the last winner that wasn’t either of those happened to be Michigans’ very own, Charles Woodson.
But after looking back at the glory days of maize and blue, there is actually a strong correlation between the Redshirt Sophomore and Michigans’ first and last Heisman winners: Tom Harmon (1940) and recently retired, and no doubt about it, future NFL Hall of Famer Charles Woodson (1997).
Big Plays Like Woodson
One of the biggest upsets in Heisman history is said to be in 1997, when Charles Woodson out dueled the Tennessee Vols playing, future Omaha yelling quarterback, Peyton Manning. Before his sophomore year, Woodson would be asked by than Michigan coach Lloyd Carr if he would contemplate playing on offense while keeping his starting Cornerback position. Carr knew what kind of athlete that he had in Woodson like Harbaugh does with Peppers. Woodson would wrap up his second season as an offensive threat, with 13 receptions for 164 yards and a touchdown, 6 rushes for 152 yards and a touchdown. While on defense he would set Michigan record with pass breakups with 15. While leading Michigan through a perfect season, Woodson caught 11 passes for 231 yards and 2 touchdowns. He also rushed 9 times for 167 yards and 2 touchdowns. I would say that this sounds a bit familiar
What set Woodson apart from Manning, is that he always delivered big plays in big games. If it was a catch, rush, reception or even his presence, When the team needed a spark he would set the entire field on fire. For instance, one of his most iconic plays was his 1-handed interception on the sideline against Michigan State which he finished with two in that game. An even better example, when he single handedly beat Ohio State when he returned a 78-yard punt for a touchdown, made an interception in the end-zone, and had a 37-yard reception that led to Michigan’s only offensive touchdown of the game. Yes, Peyton Manning finished the year with a 11-2 record and throwing for 3,819 yards and 36 touchdowns but Charles Woodsons’ non-stop playmaking ability would fare to be too much and would eventually help Michigan earn a trip to the Rose Bowl which later earned a share of the national title after beating Washington State 21-16 and give Michigan its third Heisman winner in 6 years.
The Forgotten Renaissance Man
In 1940, when the world was at war, the late great Thomas Harmon became Michigans first ever Heisman Trophy Winner. The grid iron has certainly changed from 76 years ago. They wore leather for helmets for Pete’s sake. There wasn’t even facemask or even concussion protocols like they have today. The highlights that Peppers is putting on this season is absolutely ridiculous. But would you believe me if I told you in his final College football game, Harmon led the Wolverines to a 40–0 win over the notorious Ohio State, scoring three rushing touchdowns, two passing touchdowns, four extra points, intercepting three passes, and punting three times for an average of 50 yards? Did you get that? That kind of stuff sounds damn near impossible these days After three magnificent years, Harmon rushed for 2,134 yards, scored 33 touchdowns and kicked the same number of point-after-touchdown, and booted two field goals for 237 career points. Oh yeah, he also threw sixteen touchdown passes. He literally put the team on his back and made play after play. Just like Peppers.
If given the opportunity, Peppers has the skill set to replicate “Old 98”. For example, after only playing the first half, Peppers would rush 3 times for 74 yards and two touchdowns. Late in the 1st Quarter, he would dodge six missed tackles and house a 44-yard punt return. My ankles were hurting for Rutgers after witnessing the run into the end zone. However, the touchdown was called back after a block in the back penalty early into the play. On defense, he also recorded two tackles at Linebacker. Are you following the trend yet?
“I really don’t know how I did that,” Peppers said when asked about the return. “But it felt good.”
Heisman is NOT a Long Shot
Through Michigan first half of the season, Peppers has played 13 different positions. Accumulating 442 all-purpose yards. With an average of 19.6, Peppers has rushed the ball 5 times for 98 and 2 touchdowns. 37 tackles, 10 tackles for loss with 2.5 sacks and six quarterback hurries.
“If there’s a better player in the country I don’t know who it is,” Harbaugh concluded. “To be able to coach a guy like Jabrill Peppers is a real joy. There’s nothing he can’t do. It’s the darndest thing I’ve ever seen. My humble opinion is we are looking at a Heisman Trophy winner. ”
Jim Harbaugh would later come out in a press interview and said that his second rushing touchdown was actually intended to be a roll out pass from Jabrill. My initial thought to this was, “He can throw too?” I’m not sure how true it is, but apparently the kid can throw a football 65 yards. If he was to do that against Ohio State, they might as well give him the Heisman Trophy.
Even though he is putting up ridiculous numbers this year and making everyone mouths drop. Peppers thinks he has been playing below average.
“I don’t think I’ve been playing as well as people say I’ve been playing,” Peppers said on Tuesday, per the Detroit Free Press. “If I had to give myself a grade, I’d probably say C-minus. Definitely not where I want to be or where the team needs me to be.”
If he is grading himself that poorly, then I really don’t think we have seen everything that Peppers has to offer. He’s definitely no Woodson and there never will be another one like him. But Woodson never played linebacker and all of sudden wanted to throw for a touchdown. When it comes to the 2016 Heisman Trophy, one question still remains.
Seen this on IG.. Had to try it lol harder than I thought pic.twitter.com/ZvLZRjfLhM
— JP (@JabrillPeppers) August 6, 2016
How can Jabrill win the Heisman if he prominently plays defense? In a very short answer, take over November like Charles Woodson did, and lead Michigan Football team to a National Championship run. Let’s be honest, I don’t even think he has broken a sweat yet.