Draft Review: Julius Peppers

Peppers is a first-time eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2024

GOSSELIN DRAFT ANALYSIS: Julius Peppers played two sports at North Carolina. He was good at one and great in the other. He was good at basketball, playing two years for the Tar Heels. His best game was a 21-point, 10-rebound effort against Penn State in the 2001 NCAA Tournament. He also blocked three shots in the upset of No. 1 Stanford in the 2000 tournament. But he was special on the gridiron, becoming only the school’s second consensus All-America in 2001 (Lawrence Taylor was the other). He was a three-year starter at defensive end, a two-time All-ACC selection and the winner of the Lombardi and Bednarik awards in 2001. He decided to skip his senior season, leaving North Carolina at No. 2 on both the all-time sack (30 1.2) and tackle-for-loss (57) lists. He measured 6-6.2, 283 pounds at the NFL combine with a 4.69 40-yard drive and a vertical jump of 36 ½ inches. Gosselin ranked him No. 2 on his Top 100 board. The Carolina Panthers selected him with the second overall pick of the 2002 draft.

Here’s what 12 NFL talent evaluators said about Peppers leading up to his draft:

(Scout) Georgia Tech blocked him with a true freshman and he didn’t make a play all night. Against SMU, a free-agent tackle blocked him and he made one play.

(Scout II) Still has basketball in him. Doesn’t finish in practice or games. He needs to learn how to play football. It could take him a year, then he could be (Jevon) Kearse. Right now I like (North Carolina DT Ryan) Sims better.

(Scout III) If people are true to their draft boards, they’ll put 2-3 players ahead of Peppers on their boards.

(Scout IV) Talented. A really gifted athlete. But I get the feeling somebody told him, “Make a spectacular play once in a while – but don’t get hurt.” He’s going to have to play harder at our level.

(Assistant coach) There’s a 30 % chance of not even being a good player.

(Defensive coordinator) He’s no Lawrence Taylor.

(Head coach) Overrated. Lacks consistency.

(Head coach II) He’s going to break a lot of hearts. He makes me nervous.

(Head coach III) In the right system, he’ll be really good. A smooth, fluid athlete. A Simeon Rice. He’s going to be hard to block at this level.

(Head coach IV) He doesn’t take downs off – it’s just that he’s so smooth it looks like he’s not playing hard. My only question is where’s the fire? I saw it in his basketball tape. It’s in his makeup. Watch the Auburn game. I saw emotion for the first time. He’s strong, uses his hands and has great flexibility and explosion. This guy is potentially better than (Michael) Strahan.

(General manager) Best athlete at his position in the draft. Best player in the draft. Like Michael Vick last year (2001 draft) – he won’t be a star right off the bat. But he’s going to run a 4.55 at 275-280 and he’ll be 300 before it’s done.

(General manager II) The kid is special. Genetic freak. Should be the first overall pick of the draft.

HALL OF FAME RESUME: Peppers became a walk-in starter and the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year when he collected 12 sacks and forced five fumbles for the Panthers. He played 17 seasons and went to the Pro Bowl in nine of them. He also was a three-time first-team all-pro. Peppers hit double-figures in sacks 10 times and retired after the 2018 season with 159 ½, fifth on the all-time list behind four Hall of Fames (Bruce Smith, Reggie White, Deacon Jones and Kevin Greene). He also scored six touchdowns (four interceptions and two fumbles) and blocked 13 kicks (12 field goals and an extra point). Peppers was named to the all-decade teams for both the 2000s and 2010s and is in his first year of eligibility for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2024.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Rick Gosselin spent 20 years as the NFL columnist for the Dallas Morning News, including 20 offseasons studying and researching prospects for the NFL draft. He didn’t watch any tape – he was a writer, not a scout – but he talked to the men who did watch tape. He built a network of NFL general managers, head coaches, personnel directors, scouts and assistant coaches from all 32 teams who would share with him their analyses of players. Gosselin used their insights to build his own draft board, Top 100 board and mock drafts. For 10 consecutive years he had the best Top 100 board in the country (2001-10), according to the Huddle Report, and three times he produced the best mock draft.

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