Get ready to see Jabrill Peppers, here, there and virtually everywhere.
The player the Giants got back from the Browns in the mega-trade that sent Odell Beckham Jr. to Cleveland could be a dream for Giants defensive coordinator James Bettcher, who likely already knows what to do with the new gem in a treasure chest that could use plenty more of them.
The Giants see Peppers, 23, as a classic strong safety, with the versatility to play low and high.
As a rookie with the Browns in 2017, Peppers battled through some physical issues and played so deeply as a free safety that at times it was difficult for him to get to the ball. Last season, with Peppers re-aligned as the strong safety, he put on display the ability he showed while winning four New Jersey state championships and during his three years starring, mostly at linebacker, at Michigan.
At this point, it does not appear Peppers is slotted for the “Moneybacker’’ role Bettcher unveiled with the Cardinals in 2015, a safety/linebacker hybrid position. At least not full-time. Peppers, though, will not be in the same place from snap to snap, and that is a big advantage for the Giants. He will line up deep, up near the line, at times as a slot cornerback and at times as a nickel linebacker.
“I would predict he can be their Swiss Army knife, but he does have a position,’’ Carl Banks, the former Giants linebacker and currently an analyst on their radio and social media broadcasts, told The Post. “He has the ability to do so many things because of his athleticism. It comes down to him learning the defense and having a grasp of what to do. You can put on the film and see he’s a football player.’’
The sluggish opening to his NFL career can be explained by how then-Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams used Peppers as a rookie. Williams wanted to avoid allowing big plays and warned Peppers he must line up at times as much as 25 yards away from the line of scrimmage. It may not have been the best for Peppers, but Williams rationalized it was the best for the team.
“I have given every single defensive back a chance to prove that you can be the angel of this defense,” Williams, now the Jets defensive coordinator, said at the time. “The angel is the person who covers everybody else up. He is the angel.”
The angel was allowed to spread his wings and fly up closer to the action in 2018, and Peppers began playing like a first-round pick — 25th overall in 2017. The Giants will pair him with Antoine Bethea, a 34-year old veteran signed this week, expecting the results to be superior to last year’s play at safety with Landon Collins and Curtis Riley — mainly because Riley will not be on the field taking all sorts of strange and unusual angles to the ball. Peppers at 5-foot-11 and 213 pounds is not as big as Collins (6-foot, 222) and does not play the same way.
Two plays last season wowed Banks, convincing him the Giants could have something special with Peppers. In a game against the Broncos, Peppers came up with his only interception in 2018, and how it did it is uncommon.
“He came from the far hash to make it all the way to the sideline to not even break up the pass but to make an interception,’’ Banks said. “You do not see that. Earl Thomas doesn’t do it. That’s range. When you talk about safeties, that’s rare, that type of range.’’
Another eye-opener for Banks came with the Browns playing red-zone defense against the Ravens. Peppers played his primary assignment and then went, as coaches are wont to say, above the X’s and 0’s and nailed a receiver in the end zone to prevent a touchdown.
“The one slant route down in the red zone where he literally steps into the throwing window, it’s an interception if the quarterback throws it, the quarterback pulls the ball down and Peppers makes a play inside where the linebacker should be,’’ Banks said. “Just having safeties that can go directionally and redirect their body and get themselves involved in plays, that’s rare. If you can find a safety that has the ability to do those types of things, you got yourself a good safety in today’s NFL.’’
The Giants chose not to invest in Collins long-term or apply an $11.15 million franchise tag. A physical force and vice-grip, volume tackler, Collins, 25, puts the hammer down on defense. Peppers, 23, has more versatility and it remains to be seen if he can rise to the level Collins reached in his 2016 breakout season, a level Collins did not attain the next two years.
“They’re two different players,’’ Banks said. “If you had to replace Landon Collins, this is the type of player you want to replace him with. Just from an ability standpoint, he’s out of control, in my opinion. He’s really, really good. I mean, it’s rare.’’