By The Numbers – The ‘Woodson’ Test: Jabrill Peppers for Heisman

0
Photo Credit: TheWolverine.com/Flickr

There has been much hullabaloo about University of Michigan standout Jabrill Peppers this season. He is clearly a dynamic player and has been instrumental in Michigan’s excellent defense in 2016. Peppers has played all over the field this season on offense, defense, and special teams. In the annual rivalry game against Michigan State this year, he accomplished quite a feat.

Head coach Jim Harbaugh went a step further earlier this season. Harbaugh named Peppers as not only someone who should be a candidate for the Heisman Trophy this year, but, the actual winner.

Peppers was named as a Heisman Finalist late Monday night. However, just because Harbaugh says something doesn’t mean it’s true. So, let’s take a look at the stats of Peppers and compare them to another similar Heisman winner: Charles Woodson.

Clearly, Woodson and Peppers are not exactly the same player. They play different positions and fulfill different primary roles. Perhaps most importantly, Heisman Trophy candidates aren’t compared to past winners. They are compared with current competitors.

That said, the comparison is fair and appropriate. Both Woodson and Peppers are utility players. Primarily defenders, they also function on special teams and are used on the offensive side of the ball as well.

Stats for both Woodson and Peppers come from the University of Michigan. Woodson’s numbers come courtesy of the Bentley Library, while Peppers’ numbers come from the school’s football page. It’s important to remember that the 2016 season isn’t quite over for Peppers. He still has the bowl game to pack on some more statistical numbers.

OFFENSE

WOODSON – 1997 PEPPERS – 2016
12 RECEPTIONS 2
238 REC. YDS 3
2 REC. TDs 0
5 RUSHES 27
41 RUSH YDS 167
1 RUSH TDs 3

ANALYSIS – These two players are not exactly alike. Peppers is used more as a runner, while Woodson was primarily deployed as a receiver on offense. Woodson was a high-impact player as evidenced by his 19.8 yards per catch average. However, one could argue that Peppers’ primary offensive role as a runner limits his chances at big plays – at least in comparison to a receiver. It stands to reason that receivers have more chances for long yardage gain plays than do runners. Both have three touchdowns on offense with Peppers still to play more games. Very strong statistical statement here from Peppers.

DEFENSE

WOODSON – 1997 PEPPERS – 2016
44 (27 SOLO) TACKLES 72 (47 SOLO)
5.0 TACKLES FOR LOSS 16
1.0 SACKS 4
8 INTERCEPTIONS 1
9 PASSES BROKEN UP 0

ANALYSIS – Charles Woodson was a devastating cornerback. The side of the field that he patrolled was rarely tested by opposing quarterbacks. When Woodson was tested he performed spectacularly with 7 interceptions in 1997. Here’s one excellent example:

Peppers has not been primarily utilized this season as a cover corner. Michigan Defensive Coordinator Don Brown deploys Peppers all over the field as a disruptor and “spy.” He is listed as LB/DB on the roster. It’s not really important what position he’s listed as playing. The roster should probably just say “effective.” Peppers is a force on defense. Take a look at the acceleration on this sack that literally knocked out MSU quarterback Brian Lewerke for the remainder of the season, from this past weekend.

Not in the same pass defender class as Woodson, but he’s someone that opposing offenses must account for every play. Again, the stats for Peppers make a strong case here as a player to be reckoned with.

SPECIAL TEAMS

WOODSON – 1997 PEPPERS – 2016
36 PUNT/KICK RETURNS 31 (21 PR)
301 TOTAL RETURN YDS 570 (310 PR)
8.6 AVG. 26 (14.8 PR)
1 TOUCHDOWNS 1

ANALYSIS – In five fewer attempts, Peppers has more than 250 more return yards than Woodson did in 1997. They both have one touchdown. By the numbers, Peppers has the statistical advantage.

Finally, the Heisman Trophy website defines the award as such:

“The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity. The winners of the trophy epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work. The Heisman Trophy Trust’s mission is to ensure the continuation and integrity of this award.”

Jabrill Peppers has demonstrated integrity throughout the college football season. His high principles and moral uprightness were especially on display after the loss to Ohio State University this year.

Also, after Penn State won the Big Ten Championship this past Saturday…

The above tweets certainly demonstrate the personal qualities that Heisman Candidates are expected to uphold.

HEISMAN COMPETITION

As previously stated, when it comes to the annual debate on the Heisman Trophy winner, it is more about comparing the nominees with one another, than comparing a player like Peppers where there’s precedent. But we can kill two birds with one stone. Let’s take a look at what Woodson went up against in 1997, versus the hand Peppers was dealt for 2016

1997 HEISMAN VOTING 1997 STATS
1. CHARLES WOODSON – WR/DB, MICH 279 SCRIM YDS; 44 TCKLS, 8 INT; 301 RET YDS, 8.6 AVG, TD
2. PEYTON MANNING – QB, TENN 60.2 COMP %, 3819 YDS, 36 TD, 11 INT
3. RYAN LEAF – QB, WASH ST 55.4 COMP %, 3968 YDS, 34 TD, 11 INT
4. RANDY MOSS – WR, MARSH 96 REC, 1820 YDS, 26 TD
CURTIS ENIS – RB, PSU 228 CAR, 1363 YDS, 19 TD

 

2016 HEISMAN CANDIDATES 2016 STATS
JABRILL PEPPERS – DB/LB, MICH 170 SCRIM YARDS; 72 TCKLS, INT; 570 RET YDS, 26 AVG, TD
LAMAR JACKSON – QB, LOU 57.6 COMP %, 3390 PASS YDS, 30 TD, 9 INT; 234 CAR, 1538 RUSH YDS, 21 TD
BAKER MAYFIELD – QB, OKLA 71.2 COMP %, 3669 YDS, 38 TD, 8 INT
DESHAUN WATSON – QB, CLEM 67.6 COMP %, 3914 PASS YDS, 37 TD, 15 INT; 129 CAR, 529 RUSH YDS, 6 TD
DEDE WESTBROOK – WR, OKLA 74 REC, 1465 YDS, 16 TD

ANALYSIS – Both Woodson and Peppers were/are part of a ballot that features some high-profile names. Woodson beat out two prolific college quarterbacks in Manning and Leaf, where Peppers is pitted up against three quarterbacks with big numbers, two of which are major dual-threat signal-callers.

In terms of the competition that each player is up against for the Heisman voting, the case can be made that Peppers is not only as good if not a better all-around player than Woodson, but also that his Heisman ballot is a lot deeper than that of Woodson’s in 1997.

CONCLUSION

Both of these athletes are incredible. Even with their difference in position and style, there are plenty of similarities. Even though they play different positions on defense, Peppers’ 2016 numbers certainly stack up to Woodson in 1997. I’ll leave it to the experts who do the voting to decide the Heisman winner this year. After looking at the numbers it’s clear that Jabrill Peppers deserves to be named as a candidate.

See you at the ceremony, Jabrill.