INDIANAPOLIS — Jabrill Peppers’ T-shirt said “LB” on the front.
“What do I look like?” he said Saturday at the NFL Scouting Combine. “I’m a safety. I’m a safety. Yes, I’m a safety.”
It’s usually a bad time of year to admit as much. Since the Browns selected Eric Turner second overall in 1991, only two safeties have been drafted in the top five — the Redskins’ Sean Taylor and the Chiefs’ Eric Berry, who both went fifth. In the same 25-year span, only four others were drafted in the top 10.
History, then, says the Bears won’t draft a safety third overall. But you could make a compelling argument otherwise. After all, they’re the team that tied the all-time NFL record for futility with only 11 takeaways last year. In a game in which offenses become more spread out by the year, making the safety spot an essential cog might not sound so ridiculous.
“You have tremendous athletes out there on islands and inside in the slots,” Peppers said. “I definitely think a good safety can be valuable.”
LSU safety Jamal Adams — who, along with Ohio State’s Malik Hooker, could be drafted historically high — asserted that he definitely deserved to be picked in the top five.
“I think the game is starting to change scheme-wise, passing,” Adams, considered the top safety prospect, told reporters at the combine Sunday. “We’re starting to have tight ends that can run now. . . . The game is changing. . . . You need safeties that can do everything in the back end, can cover, can tackle.”
In need of one safety, if not two — depending on your view of Adrian Amos — the Bears could begin to rebuild the position when free agency starts Thursday. The Cardinals’ Tony Jefferson is considered the top one available, followed by the Jaguars’ Johnathan Cyprien and the Cowboys’ Barry Church.
Adams was a first-team All-American last year and didn’t commit a penalty. Hooker had seven interceptions in his only full season as a starter but has played only two college seasons and two in high school.
Hooker had labrum and sports-hernia surgeries on his left hip Jan. 16 and is not working out at the combine, but he said his medical checks were going well. He should be ready for rookie minicamp.
And then there’s Peppers, who ran a 4.46 40-yard dash Sunday after being forced to work with linebackers because Michigan listed him at that position last season. After some lobbying, he’ll be allowed to do field work with the defensive backs Monday, too.
NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock called Hooker a better center fielder but Adams a better hitter.
He said Peppers could be a versatile defensive piece in a league that’s as focused as ever on matchups. He doesn’t figure to be the first safety taken, however.
Peppers said he played linebacker during his redshirt sophomore season only because he was told it’d help the team.
“I don’t have a lot of tape at safety,” he said, “but I’m a pretty damn good safety.”
BEST OF THE BEST
Jamal Adams, LSU
Adams had private meetings with 12 teams scheduled for Sunday night — and, he said, with good reason.
“I feel like I’m the best guy in the draft,” he told reporters.
Malik Hooker, Ohio State
Hooker told reporters Sunday that he understood why teams questioned him about the fact he’s played so little football in his life.
“They don’t want to put millions of dollars and their trust into somebody who doesn’t really understand the game of football,” he said.
Jabrill Peppers, Michigan
Peppers is so dynamic that a few teams this week asked him about playing running back or slot receiver. Regardless, he’ll get the ball in his hands as a returner, probably starting on Day 1.
“They don’t have to assume,” he said. “I will.”