In a game where quarterbacks rule, there wasn’t a better player in the 1997-1998 college football season than defensive back Charles Woodson. An athletic cover corner with offensive skills, Woodson put the Michigan Wolverine on his back en route to a national championship.
For his performance, Woodson earned the Heisman Trophy and remains the only primarily defensive player to ever win the prestigious award. Woodson’s win 20 years ago was monumental, as the list of Heisman winners has been dominated by quarterbacks and running backs over the years.
FILE – In this Sept. 17, 2016, file photo, Michigan linebacker Jabrill Peppers (5) returns a punt for a touchdown in the team’s NCAA college football game against Colorado at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich. Peppers is listed on the roster as a linebacker but has lined up all over the field. Peppers ranks among the national leaders in tackles for loss, he covers and returns kicks and is the country’s No. 2 punt returner. (AP Photo/Tony Ding, File)
Other than Woodson, you have to go back to the 1991-1992 season to find another Heisman winner who was anything other than a quarterback or running back. That year, another Wolverine, Desmond Howard, took home the award primarily for his work as a punt returner and kick returner.
There must be something about Michigan that produces one-of-a-kind Heisman winners, because they should have another by the time this season is over. As a hybrid star player, Jabrill Peppers, a junior, does everything for the Wolverines. He’s even been compared to Woodson for his multipurpose abilities—except he’s even a little more diverse.
Peppers has seen work as a cornerback, safety, linebacker, pass rusher, kick returner, punt returner, wide receiver, running back and wildcat quarterback—five more positions than Woodson saw time playing at. Peppers has been phenomenal for the unbeaten Wolverines (8-0) who have surged to become the nation’s second-ranked team, behind only Alabama. He hasn’t scored touchdowns like Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, but he’s been a better football player.
If the NFL Draft was tomorrow, Peppers would have a legitimate case to be the top overall pick. A player who can fill multiple positions can excel anywhere on the field. Peppers is a future All-Pro once he hits the NFL—it’s only a matter of time. Heisman trophies aren’t awarded for potential, but Peppers has clearly shown that he’s the most talented player on the college football landscape, and he’s likely headed to a stellar pro football career.
Touchdown stats are great, but a player who can dominate a game from many positions is far superior. Louisville’s Jackson will likely be a Heisman favorite because he’s ringing up touchdowns at an uncanny rate, but his team likely won’t be playing for the national championship in January. Peppers’ Wolverines, on the other hand, should be in contention for a title if they get past Ohio State on Nov. 26. The team’s success alone should be enough to push Peppers ahead as a Heisman front-runner. The best player on championship-contending team should win the Heisman Trophy. If Peppers plays well against Ohio State, it’s only right to pencil him in as the successor to Woodson’s legacy.