Of all the players who moved around in NFL Free Agency this year, no one had a more sobering experience than former Tar Heel defensive end Julius Peppers. Peppers hit the market after some underwhelming years with the Chicago Bears. If he thought that his status as name pass rusher was going to help his value, it did not. Peppers ultimately signed with the Green Bay Packers at a bargain price to try something different, being a 3-4 outside linebacker.
The idea is intriguing, in theory. Send a 6’6” 285 pound missile into the backfield without having to claw his way through offensive lineman at the get go. Perhaps the change in usage will prolong his career by removing some the wear and tear of the line.
The problem starts when you realize that Peppers is 34, not 22 as he is trying to do this. Being a step slow is much more problematic for an outside linebacker than it is for a defensive end. Andy Benoit of Sports Illustrated also pointed out that moving from 4-3 end to 3-4 linebacker really hasn’t worked out for those who have tried it. Defensive end Mario Williams, who is built like Peppers, was just moved back to the defensive line by the Bills when they scrapped the 3-4.
According to Benoit, only one pass rusher’s sack totals have improved the year after he made the switch. That was former South Carolina Gamecock and current Arizona Cardinal John Abraham. Abraham and Peppers do not have the same bodies. Abraham has always played at 260 or even a little less, so that there is less chance he would lumber around at linebacker. Peppers is at 285, and the Packers likely won’t shrink him in order to take advantage of his great strength. He will still man the line for nickel or dime sets.
In other words, it will be an adventure this year for Peppers. If he can show that he still has his speed and that he can offer some amount of pass coverage, then he still has some good years left. Otherwise this might be his last stand. He at least looks the part, with that number 56 jersey that he has now.
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