For now, he is a footnote, as any player attached to a trade that includes Odell Beckham Jr. is going to take second-billing. That is where Jabrill Peppers exists, until he proves to the Giants and their fans that he is a worthwhile return for a superstar receiver.
Peppers was the other live body included in a megadeal Tuesday night that sent Beckham to the Browns, in exchange for a 2019 first-round draft pick, a 2019 third-round pick and Peppers. It remains to be seen what the Giants make out of those two picks. Peppers, 23, arrives and will start on defense for the Giants, most likely at strong safety, filling a glaring hole opened up when Landon Collins was not pursued as a free agent and signed with the Redskins.
This is not new terrain for Peppers, who is from East Orange, N.J., and starred in high school at Don Bosco Prep and later at Paramus Catholic. He went on to a huge career at Michigan, where in 2016 he was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. The Browns took him with the 25th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft and Peppers became an immediate starter.
As a rookie, Peppers often struggled at free safety, but he fared much better in 2018 moving over to strong safety, with 79 tackles. Pro Football Focus called it a “breakout’’ year for Peppers.
Removing Collins from the defensive backfield was an unpopular move with Giants fans. Earlier on Tuesday, the Giants agreed to terms with Antoine Bethea, a 34-year-old safety about to enter his 14th NFL season. Bethea’s arrival now makes more sense, as he can be a stabilizing influence to the much younger Peppers, with holdovers Michael Thomas and Sean Chandler in the mix. Suddenly, the safety position does not look at bleak and barren as it did a few days ago.
As an added benefit, Peppers is an accomplished returner of kickoffs and punts, excelling at both roles at Michigan and handling those assignments for the Browns the past two seasons.