Michigan football star Jabrill Peppers declares for NFL draft

Peppers finished 5th in Heisman Trophy voting this season

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Michigan football star Jabrill Peppers announced Tuesday that he will forgo his final two years of eligibility at the University of Michigan and enter the NFL draft.

Peppers announced his decision on Twitter, saying "Thank you (Michigan and Coach Jim Harbaugh) for the memories and preparation. I'm declaring for the draft. Forever GO BLUE!"

The redshirt sophomore became a star in his second full season of action, playing offense, defense and special teams and finishing in fifth place for the Heisman Trophy -- college football's most prestigious individual award.

 

Peppers turned into one of the best tacklers in the Big Ten this season after moving primarily to linebacker under defensive coordinator Don Brown. He also played plenty of cornerback and safety for the Wolverines. He made 125 career tackles and four sacks, but his most impressive stat was his 16 tackles for loss in 2016. He finished his career with 21.5 tackles for loss.

In 27 games, Peppers defended 10 passes and made one interception -- a pick against Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett in the biggest game of his career.

On offense, Peppers previously took on wide receiver and running back duties, but this season, he made most of his appearances as a wildcat quarterback. He carried the ball 27 times this season for 167 yards and three touchdowns.

In three seasons, he gained 239 rushing yards and 82 receiving yards.

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Michigan will struggle to replace Peppers' elite production as a punt returner, as he averaged 14.8 yards per return in 2016. Peppers only returned one punt for a touchdown in his career, but his ability to make big plays forced opponents to game-plan around avoiding a big return -- a decision that often helped Michigan in the field position battle.

As a kick returner, Peppers was solid, averaging 26 yards per return in 2016.

It will be difficult for Michigan to replace a unique talent like Peppers, who was an immediate game-changer in all three phases. Peppers is projected to be a late first-round draft pick by most predictions, but has three months to improve his stock going forward.

How will Michigan replace all the star players heading to the NFL? Here are some of the latest additions to the football team in Harbaugh's 2017 recruiting class:

The official Michigan athletics website, MGoBlue.com, released the following statement on Peppers:

"University of Michigan junior linebacker and all-purpose contributor Jabrill Peppers announced on Tuesday (Jan. 10) that he will forgo his remaining eligibility and declare for early entry into the 2017 National Football League Draft.

Peppers, a Heisman Trophy finalist who was voted the Bo Schembechler Team MVP by his teammates at the annual Football Bust celebration on Dec. 13, showed his range and versatility by contributing at 15 different positions on offense, defense and special teams. Primarily a linebacker, he won the Lott IMPACT Trophy and Paul Hornung Award this season. He was also a unanimous first-team All-American.

Peppers became the first player in Big Ten history to win three individual awards when he was named the conference's Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year, Butkus-Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year and Rodgers-White Return Specialist of the Year. He was also recognized as a first-team All-Big Ten performer on defense and special teams.

This fall, Peppers helped direct a Michigan defense that leads the nation in pass defense and third-down conversion percentage allowed. U-M ranks second nationally in four other categories. He missed the team's final game in the Orange Bowl against Florida State due to a leg injury sustained the day before the game.

The East Orange, New Jersey, native finished third on the team in tackles with a career-best 72 stops on the year. He was U-M's leader in tackles-for-loss (16), averaging 1.3 per game, and helped U-M become the only defense in the nation to average more than three sacks (3.27) and nine (tackles for loss) (9.6) per game. Peppers also contributed four sacks, one interception and one forced fumble.

In the return game, he had 21 punt returns for 310 total yards, averaging 14.8 yards per return with one touchdown, and he also had 10 kickoff return opportunities, totaling 260 yards for a 26.0-yard average. Peppers carried the ball 27 times on offense for 167 total yards (6.18 yards per carry) with three touchdowns and also registered two receptions.

Through his 15 different positions played this season (five on offense, six on defense, four on special teams), Peppers played an astounding 933 snaps, logging 726 plays on defense, 53 plays on offense and 154 snaps on special teams.

In his two full years wearing the winged helmet, Peppers was a part of two 10-win seasons, helping the Wolverines to a 20-6 overall record in 2015 and 2016. In addition to the two national awards he received, Peppers was also a finalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award, Maxwell Award, Bronko Nagurski Award and Walter Camp Player of the Year Award and was a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award.

Teammates Mike McCray, Khalid Hill, Maurice Hurst and Mason Cole have announced their intentions to return to Michigan for another season. Peppers is the first player to leave the Wolverines early for the NFL since Carolina Panthers' wide receiver Devin Funchess declared early for the 2015 draft.

The 2017 NFL Draft will take place April 27-29 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania."

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