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How should the Steelers properly judge draft prospect Jabrill Peppers?

The former Michigan product has tumbled in some recent mock drafts.

NCAA Football: Penn State at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

It’s funny how “workout warrior” has become almost synonymous with “draft bust.”

Of course, that isn’t entirely accurate. For every team that selects a Vernon Gholston, another finds their Ryan Shazier. Striking the balance between scouting tape and scouting physical attributes, however, has proven to be exceedingly difficult, which makes former Michigan standout Jabrill Peppers’ evaluation process very interesting.

Peppers checks all the workout warrior boxes, as he was among the Combine’s top performers in at 40-yard dash, the broad jump, and the vertical leap. For good measure, he put up 19 reps on the bench press, which is a praiseworthy total for a 5-foot-11, 213-pound defensive back.

On paper, Peppers is probably the best football player in the draft. The dude played five different positions at Michigan (primarily as an in-box safety/linebacker, but also slot cornerback, kick returner, running back, and traditional deep safety) and was the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and a unanimous first-team All-American selection in 2016.

Amazingly, this versatility seems to have negatively impacted his draft stock. As good as Peppers looks on tape, he has virtually no production to support his case. In 27 career games, Peppers has just one interception and three sacks. This is likely due in large part to the fact that Jim Harbaugh and Michigan’s coaching staff moved Peppers all over the defensive backfield. So, although Peppers played safety, cornerback, and linebacker, it remains to be seen if he truly learned how to play these positions.

Joining an NFL roster as a true hybrid wouldn’t be a landmark achievement for Peppers—Arizona, for example, rosters two such players in Deone Bucannon and Tyrann Mathieu. However, many of the guys who could theoretically serve as Swiss Army Knife players ultimately focus on a single position, like Seattle’s Kam Chancellor.

Herein lies a major issue for Peppers. His build probably isn’t suitable for playing 4-3 outside linebacker on a full-time basis, and he doesn’t have the production or experience of some of the draft’s other top safeties. He isn’t quite six-feet tall and his arms are relatively short, which means that packing on additional functional mass—even with the help of an NFL training program—without impeding his explosive abilities will be a major challenge. This likely makes his skillset most translatable to strong safety, which is a position that he will have to be taught.

Having said that, I’m not a professional scout, and I have no idea how certain coaching staffs and front offices view Peppers from a positional standpoint. I’m just guessing, but someone out there thinks they can turn this guy into the next Eric Weddle or Troy Polamalu. Other teams have probably dropped him from their boards entirely.

As it stands, there is a real possibility that Peppers could be on the board while the Steelers are on the clock in the first round. If this is the case, the Steelers should pick him at No. 30, as I think it is a move that fits. Mike Tomlin and Keith Butler can create subpackages for utilizing Peppers’ multifaceted skillset without having to deploy him as a full-time starter (they kind of did this with Sean Davis at the beginning of the 2016 season). The trial-by-fire method last season certainly benefited Davis and Artie Burns, but the Steelers can afford to give this year’s pick (regardless of who it is) some time to develop.

Good coaching staffs find a way to make use of good football players. I think Peppers will be just fine.