COVER 9@9: Peppers a nice fit for Falcons’ defense

Michigan linebacker Jabrill Peppers runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Monday, March 6, 2017. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

1. PEPPERS WORTH THE RISK:  INDIANAPOLIS – The most intriguing athlete at the combine was Michigan’s all-purpose player Jabrill Peppers.

“He’s a true wildcard,” said ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper, who projects Peppers as a late first-round pick. The Falcons have the 31st overall pick.

ESPN’s Todd McShay doesn’t have Peppers rated as highly and believes he’s a second- or third-rounder.

Peppers worked out with the linebackers and the defensive backs at the combine. He also played some running back and option quarterback for the Wolverines. He even returned kicks and punts in college.

Jabrill Peppers is kind of a major question mark,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said.  “What’s he going to be? How do teams view him?”

Peppers knows what position he plays.

“I’m a safety,” Peppers said. “Yes, I’m a safety.”

One high-ranking NFC executive views Peppers as a strong safety first, free safety second and third and weakside linebacker.

“Jabrill Peppers is a great conversation because I think what he did this year was for the team,” Mayock said. “He showed that the team was more important than where (he’d) go in the draft potentially. They put him at linebacker and occasionally at nickel.

“He was an in-the-box linebacker/strong safety…I’ve seen him play a little bit off the ball. To me, he’s a safety all day long. If you want to put him at dime linebacker on third down in your sub package, absolutely.”

Peppers  believes his work ethic will help him transition into the NFL.

“I’m pretty much effective wherever I’m (going to) be put,” Peppers said. “I don’t have a lot of tape at safety, but I’m a pretty damn good safety. I think a lot of teams notice that. They have the tape. They asked me for tapes of me playing corner, me playing some safety.”

2. FITS WITH FALCONS: A player with the versatility of Peppers would give Falcons coach Dan Quinn and defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel an extra chess piece to move around.

In the Super Bowl, Peppers could have been used to shut down running back James White, who caught 14 passes.

Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff speaks during a press conference at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, Wednesday, March 1, 2017. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

In other games, Peppers, who’s 4.46 time in the 40-yard dash was faster than Seattle All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas, could roam the field at free safety and blow up receivers. If a tight end is a problem, put Peppers on the tight end.

“It’s a matchup game,” Mayock said. “Jabrill Peppers is a matchup player. On first down he might be in one place and on third down he might be in another place. He can play in the middle of the field because he has great range.

“He can line up at nickel and if you really want to him to cover that running back, matchup on a running back like Christian McCaffery, now you’ve got Peppers lined up on McCaffery. I’d pay money to see that.”

3. TAMPA BAY MAKING NOISE: Tampa Bay is making a hard run at free agent wide receiver DeSean Jackson.

“I think the state of the team whenever you have a young franchise quarterback, it’s really exciting,” Mayock said. “They are in that phase where they are starting to think that they can compete. They showed that last year. Now, they have to continue to develop talent.”

Defensive coordinator Mike Smith was pleased that they Bucs drafted him some defensive players last season when they took cornerback Vernon Hargreaves and linebacker Noah Spence in the first and second rounds.

The Bucs hope that Spence develops in his second season like Vic Beasley did for the Falcons.

“I think they are going to address the secondary a little bit and maybe the run game to take some pressure off of (quarterback) Jameis Winston,” Mayock said. “They need to get younger and a little more athletic (at wide receiver).”

4. MYRICK RAN FAST.  Minnesota cornerback Jalen Myrick, who played at Savannah Christian Prep

Minnesota defensive back Jalen Myrick tackling Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones. (Associated Press)

and is from Bloomingdale, ran his 40 in 4.28 seconds.

He became the second player at the combine to run a sub-4.3. Washington wide receiver John Ross ran a record 4.22.

Here’s Myrick’s bio:

Myrick, Minnesota, 5-10, 205, DB, Savannah Christian Prep, Bloomingdale. He started all 13 games and recorded 41 tackles, 11 pass breakups and one interception. He also returned 13 kickoffs for 287 yards and nine punts for 44 yards. He played in 46 career games for Minnesota and made 90 tackles, including seven tackles for losses. He also broke up 19 career passes and has returned two of his five interceptions for touchdowns. He has also returned 43 kickoffs for 1,052 yards and returned a kick 100 yards for a touchdown against Northwestern in 2014. Myrick is in line to be selected in the 2017 NFL Draft. Minnesota has a strong recent history in having defensive backs drafted. Eric Murray was taken by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2016, while Cedric Thompson was selected by the Miami Dolphins in 2015 and Brock Vereen by the Chicago Bears in 2014. NFLDraftScout.com has him ranked as the 24th best cornerback in the draft and projects that he’ll be drafted in the fifth or sixth round.

5. FALCONS FREE AGENCY UPDATE:  The official start of free agency is just hours away.

Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn speaks during a press conference at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, Wednesday, March 1, 2017. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

NFL teams, at 12 noon Tuesday, were permitted to contact, and enter into contract negotiations with the certified agents of players who will become unrestricted free agents upon the expiration of their 2016 contracts at 4 p.m. on Thursday.

The Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff has said the team plans to sign cornerback Desmond Trufant to a contract extension and try to resign their own players.

The team is not planning to sign re-sign longtime defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux and former starting tight end Jacob Tamme, Dimitroff noted. Also, Paul Worrilow is set to hit the open market and has at least four teams interested.

The Falcons tendered restricted free agent wide receiver Taylor Gabriel at the second round level and offensive guard/defensive tackle Ben Garland, likely at the third or fourth round level.


Here are all of the updates from Dimitroff:

6. UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

–DT Jonathan Babineaux wanted to return, but team is allowing him to reach free agency after 12 years of service. Since being drafted in the second round back 2005 out of Iowa, Babineaux has played in 185 games and made 133 starts for the Falcons. “Babs has done a great job for us over the years,” Dimitroff said. “He’s been such a great leader for us.”

–RG Chris Chester the team would like for the veteran to return. He’s contemplating retirement.

–OT Tom Compton is headed for free agency as the team will look to upgrade the depth at the tackle position.

–FB Patrick DiMarco is a dependable fullback a year removed from going to the Pro Bowl. His lead blocking is vital to the rushing attack and the team wants to re-sign him. The Falcons are in negotiations to secure his return

–DE Dwight Freeney said he wants to keep playing, but the team will revisit the veteran later in free agency.

–SS Dashon Goldson was safety insurance and not expected to be re-signed.

–SS/LB Kemal Ishmael is a valuable hybrid safety and weakside linebacker, who the team wants to re-sign. The team is in negotiations to re-sign him.

–LB LaRoy Reynolds is a speedy special teams player, who could also return.

–WR Aldrick Robinson is speedy deep threat and key special teams performer.

–QB Matt Schaub is reportedly headed to San Francisco to re-unite with 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan.

–TE Jacob Tamme said he wants to return, but the team will allow him to hit the open market. The development of Austin Hooper has been key.

–TE Levine Toilolo is a blocking tight end and the team likes the work he’s done in the rushing attack. They are hoping to re-sign him.

–DT Courtney Upshaw was a versatile reserve who made the conversion from linebacker to defensive tackle and end. The Falcons are hoping to re-sign Upshaw.

–LB Sean Weatherspoon wants to return, but the team make look elsewhere for depth behind the talented linebacker corps.

–WR Eric Weems the former Pro Bowler is a valued special teams player, but may not be re-signed.

–LB Philip Wheeler a key veteran backup, who can start in a pinch. The Columbus, Ga. native wants to return.

–LB Paul Worrilow he’s headed to the open market after leading the team in tackles from 2013-2015.

–CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson was signed as the injuries mounted in the secondary. He won’t be initially re-signed.

7. RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

–LB Tyler Starr is not expected to get tendered.

–OG Ben Garland will receive a tender from the team.

–WR Taylor Gabriel (made just $510,000 last season) and has received a second-round tender from the team.

–DB Akeem King may receive a modest tender from the team.

8. EXCLUSIVE-RIGHTS FREE AGENTS

–FS Ricardo Allen is the starter and one of the leaders of the young group.

–CB Deji Olatoye played some snaps as injuries mounted.

–LB Josh Keyes the team likes his speed.

–TE D.J. Tialavea provided some depth.

–WR Nick Williams he was a favorite of the former offensive coordinator.

9. FALCONS’ TOP 3 NEEDS: The Falcons don’t need much but the cap and free agency make it impossible for NFL teams to have it all so they have to prioritize. Michael Cunningham of the Mike Check blog shares what he considers to be the top three needs for the Falcons.

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