College: North Carolina
Birthday: January 18, 1980
Strengths: Julius Peppers will be the best pure athlete available in next year’s draft, bar none. A phenomenal athlete in high school (he ran track in addition to starring in football and basketball), Peppers spent his first two years at Chapel Hill splitting time between the gridiron and the hardwood, playing sixth man on a Final Four team his freshman year.
Fortunately, Peppers has elected to concentrate full-time on football this season; great news for Texan fans since he may very well be the best defensive lineman in college. Peppers is a physical marvel (6.1% body fat and 35.5″ vertical leap), who uses both his speed and endurance to play all-out, nonstop football from sideline-to-sideline. He has the ability to change directions, rush the passer with tremednous closing speed and pursue the ball, possessing surprising agility for a man his size. He’s yet to have a spring workout because of basketball and yet has managed to improve his game each year.
When Carolina’s new coaching regime implemented a more rigorous conditioning program this summer, one that included extra running, it drew resistance from the team. But lead-by-example Peppers answered the call, at one point working out with the skill players after running his laps with the defense. “What can you say about a guy like that? He did a great job,” said new strength and conditioning coach Jeff Connors.
Areas of concern: If Peppers has a drawback, it’s that he hasn’t yet mastered the skill of rushing the quarterback and you can single team him on run plays.
Right now, he uses his explosive speed, quick first step and amazing strength to blow by smaller, slower right tackles. He won’t have the luxury of being head-and-tails the best athlete on the field in the NFL, so he needs to learn more about, and then hone his craft.
Is he sponge-worthy?: Peppers will be a top-five pick, no question – it’s just a matter of when. He contemplated coming out after his sophomore season, and has stated already he’ll make himself eligible for the 2002 draft. He commitment full-time to football is great news, considering he hasn’t had a spring practice since coming to North Carolina. Any rough edges he still has should be worked out this year.
The team has built its defense around him. Ordinarily, you save this kind of praise for defensive backs, but Peppers has a knack for being around the ball and making things happen. Last year, he forced 3 fumbles, recovered one and picked off a pass, scoring two touchdowns in the process. Once again, he’s a defensive end.
Peppers has been compared favorably to another Tar Heel defensive terror, some guy named Lawrence Taylor. Peppers nearly broke Taylor’s 20-year old single season sack record (16) last year and figures to make another run at it in 2001. Don’t think for a second Dom Capers and Charley Casserly won’t be watching.
Julius Peppers Return to The War Room
The Journal on Peppers Bill Cole of the Winston-Salem Journal graciously answers questions about top prospect Julius Peppers.
Football focus is best for Peppers, Curry
ESPN ‘s Mel Kiper applauds Julius Peppers’ decision to give up basketball and concentrate full-time on football.
Spotlight: Julius Peppers CBS Sportsline spotlights Julius Peppers.