Winner: Jabrill Peppers
University of Michigan third-year sophomore Jabrill Peppers, who in 2016 became the first person to earn Big Ten defensive player of the year, linebacker of the year and return specialist of the year, was named winner of the seventh annual Paul Hornung Award presented by Texas Roadhouse. The Louisville Sports Commission and Paul Hornung present the Award to the most versatile player in major college football.
One of the most-gifted athletes in the storied history of Michigan football, Peppers played 15 different positions on three sides of the ball on a Wolverine team ranked sixth in the final College Football Playoff rankings and headed to the Capital One Orange Bowl for a Dec. 30 matchup against Florida State.
“It means a lot to me to win this award,” said Jabrill. “You definitely want to do as much as possible, and you want to do it as well as you can. I think there are a lot of guys who could have won this award, so it’s just a tremendous honor to be the winner and to represent the Paul Hornung Award. I’m just going to keep to trying to get better, keep working on my faults and do whatever I have to do to help my team.”
“Jabrill loves competition and has a relentless desire to be great,” said Jim Harbaugh, Michigan’s J. Ira and Nicki Harris Family Head Football Coach. “We are honored that Jabrill has been selected as the Paul Hornung Award winner, an achievement fitting of his versatility on the football field. Jabrill is explosive, aggressive, intelligent and plays the game with great enthusiasm. He has always wanted what is best for the team and has been willing to accept any role that is asked of him. We are very proud of this achievement.”
“Jabrill Peppers is a throwback to the time I played,” Paul Hornung said. “He’s fearless on the field and uses his tremendous athletic skills and determination to play any position to help Michigan win football games. Jabrill is a fantastic addition to our list of Paul Hornung Award winners.”
Peppers was Heisman Trophy Finalist, a candidate for the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award and a finalist for the Maxwell Award for college player of the year, Bednarik Award for defensive player of the year, Lott IMPACT Trophy for the best defensive player in character and performance, and the Bronko Nagurski Trophy for outstanding defensive player. Peppers also was named a semi-finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award for the best defensive back.
Peppers by the Numbers
Primarily a linebacker, Peppers also made his presence felt as a cornerback, nickel corner, safety and free safety on a Wolverine defense that ranked in the top 15 nationally in every major statistical category. He led the team with 16 tackles for loss and eight quarterback hurries, and was second on the team with 72 total tackles and four sacks.
On special teams, Peppers led the Big Ten and was fifth nationally with 14.8 yards per punt return with one touchdown and averaged 25 yards per kickoff return. He consistently improved the Wolverines’ field position by fair catching punts in tough circumstances and by forcing opponents into short kicks and punts because of his explosive return capabilities. He also played gunner and hold-up on the punt team.
On offense, Peppers played wildcat quarterback, running back, slot and wide receiver. He averaged 6.2 yards per carry, and was the Wolverine’s fifth leading rusher with 161 yards and three touchdowns.
Following his performance in Michigan’s 45-28 come-from-behind win over Colorado, where he made nine tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and accounted for 204 all-purpose yards, Pepper’s was the first person ever named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week and Specialist of the Week for the same game. In the Wolverine’s 32-23 road win over arch-rival Michigan State, he made eight tackles, including two tackles for loss; returned a fumbled PAT for a two-point defensive score; carried the ball four times for 24 yards and a touchdown; and returned a punt and a kickoff.
Two defensive stars who also return kicks and spot play on offense, and a pair of prolific playmakers who play offense and return kicks have been named finalists for the seventh annual Paul Hornung Award presented by Texas Roadhouse and given annually to the most versatile player in major college football.
Chosen as finalists are defensive back Adoree’ Jackson (Southern Cal), linebacker / defensive back Jabrill Peppers (Michigan), running back / receiver Christian McCaffrey (Stanford) and wide receiver Dede Westbrook (Oklahoma).
Jackson is a big play, lockdown cornerback who made circus catches on interceptions, spectacular plays returning punts and kicks, and influenced the game in spot play in the offensive backfield. He made two key interceptions in USC’s electrifying road win over number four-ranked Washington and made an acrobatic interception to end a drive deep in USC territory in the win over number 10-ranked Colorado. Jackson is a dangerous return man, averaging nearly 15 yards per punt return and 30 yards per kickoff return. He consistently helped USC with great field position with fair catches and by disrupting opponents’ kickoff and punt schemes.
McCaffrey is workhorse on offense and special teams who led the Cardinal in rushing, scoring, punt and kickoff returns, and was third on the team in receiving. Primarily a running back, McCaffrey also lined up at slot, wide receiver and “wild caff” quarterback. He accounted for 200+ all-purpose yards in six games and 11 touchdowns despite being bracketed by defensive schemes all season. McCaffrey was a threat to score every time he touched the ball; he forced teams to adjust their kickoff and punting game plans to keep him in check. He also delivered outstanding field position by fair catching punts in tight situations.
Westbrook is a big-play wider receiver and prolific scorer with blazing speed who is ranked number two in the nation in receiving yards per game, number three in receiving touchdowns (14) and number four in total receiving yards (1,254). He averaged 17 yards per carry, 28 yards per kickoff return and an amazing 20 yards per punt return. He scored OU’s first two touchdowns in the win over Kansas and had 233 all-purpose yards and the game-winning score against Iowa State. His 14 touchdown receptions have averaged 45.4 yards, and 10 of his touchdown catches have come from at least 40 yards.