In the age of instant information, no action or event goes unnoticed. This is especially true for college football players hoping to make it big in the NFL. Scouts meticulously search their histories for even the slightest reason to draft one player over another. This is unfortunate news for Michigan standout Jabrill Peppers, as news broke on Monday that Peppers was flagged for a failed drug test. The test was done at the NFL combine and the exact cause of the failed test was a diluted sample.
What exactly does a diluted sample mean?
A diluted sample is not the same as a positive test for banned substances. What it actually means is that there was an abnormally high volume of fluids in the player’s system. This cause the sample to be watered down to the point that no substances could be detected. That excessive consumption of fluids is a method used to cover up banned substances and avoid positive tests. As a result, the NFL considers this the same as a failed test. Peppers will have to enter the NFL’s substance abuse program as a result of this rule.
Peppers’ representative from Creative Artists Agency (CAA) stated that this diluted test came from Peppers taking in a large amount of fluids to prepare for the NFL combine. According to the statement by CAA, Peppers was ill and has a long history of cramping. In order to make sure that he would be able to perform at his peak during the combine drills, he drank “8-10 bottles of water before he went to bed.” This seems viable, but NFL scouts have no way of knowing the truth, and the flagged test still represents a possible sign of off the field issues.
The breaking news of Peppers’ failed test places him on an ever-growing list of talented college players with character questions. Everyone already knows about the much publicized case of Joe Mixon, who violently struck a woman in 2014. It also recently came out that Alabama linebacker Reuban Foster was also flagged for a diluted sample. Now add Peppers to this group as well.
In 2016, similar situations played out with Laremy Tunsil and Robert Nkemdiche. A video of Tunsil with a bong posted just before the draft almost certainly caused him to fall to the 13th pick by the Miami Dolphins. He would likely have been drafted higher if not for the untimely post. Nkemdiche was once regarded as a top five prospect. However, a lack of production mixed with a drug related suspension and other character issues dropped him to 29th overall. Both of these players represent a possible preview of what Peppers may face on draft day.
What does this mean for Peppers?
Peppers was expected to go anywhere from the middle of the first round to the early second round before this incident was reported. Unless there is a team drafting in the middle of the first round that is in love with Peppers’ abilities, he will most likely fall to the late first or early second round. This drop means that Peppers will potentially lose out on millions of dollars simply due to his draft position.
The main problem for Peppers may not even be related entirely to the positive test, but rather about a combination of things. There were already questions about what position he would play in the NFL. At Michigan, Peppers thrived in a role where he could use his athleticism to overcome a lack of specific positional skill. In the NFL, he may not be able to cover up for a lack of technique with raw speed and physicality.
Because of this, it’s hard to decide where Peppers should play. His versatility places him somewhere between a linebacker and safety. He doesn’t have enough bulk to be a linebacker but doesn’t have the ball skills to be a dependable safety. He could even be transformed into an offensive threat as a running back, receiver, or returner.
Where Could He Go?
The problem here is that Peppers doesn’t exactly fill one specific need for a team. There are better linebackers and more refined safeties in the draft. What Peppers brings to the table is a versatility that not every team is looking for. The team that takes Peppers will need to be imaginative with their usage and find a place where he fits best for them.
This combination of questions about where Peppers will play, along with the failed drug test will almost certainly cause his stock to drop. The good news for Peppers is that while this may mean forfeiting money, he will still get into the NFL and have a chance to prove himself both on and off the field. If he shows he is valuable and avoids any further incident (including failed drug tests) he will still be able to overcome this setback.
Look for Peppers to get drafted by a team looking for a multi-purpose player rather than trying to fill a specific position need. If he falls into the late first round one possible fit could be the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers were impressed with Peppers’ pro day and are working on building a fast, hard-hitting defense. Another potential landing-place could be the New England Patriots. The Patriots are in a perfect position to take a “risk” on a hybrid position player. Plus, there’s no telling what schemes Bill Belichick could come up with both offensively and defensively by adding Peppers to their roster. Of course, there’s no surefire spot that Peppers will get drafted in, and he will continue to be an exciting story during the draft and into the off-season.