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Browns DB Jabrill Peppers his own biggest critic after rookie season

Jabrill Peppers will be the first to tell you he didn't have the rookie season he wanted.

The Browns' rookie safety and return specialist envisioned himself making an immediate impact and, instead, experienced highs and lows throughout his first NFL season.

"I don't know what grade I would give myself right now," Peppers said Monday, "but it wouldn't be a favorable one."

Peppers, who has been his own biggest critic at times this year, said he expects more from himself. After all, he did just about everything at Michigan before the Browns picked him up with the 25th overall pick in last spring's NFL Draft. He was hard on himself again in end-of-year interviews earlier this week. 

"I missed a lot of routine plays, tackles that need to be tackles. Didn't really have enough impact plays. Didn't do what I wanted to do in the return game. The list goes on," he said, shrugging, "but it's trial and error. I think I pretty much got what works for me and won't feel this way by next year."

Indeed, Peppers — like much of the Browns' young roster — spent much of the season fighting through growing pains, and there's a hope that next season will be better. Peppers, for what it's worth, put together arguably one of his best performances in Sunday's season-ending loss to the Steelers. On a frigid day at Heinz Field, he notched his first-career interception by jumping a pass intended for fellow rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster and was around the ball all afternoon. 

Peppers finished the year with 57 tackles on defense and averaged 22.7 yards as a kick returner in 13 starts. Along the way, the coaching staff saw the multi-talented player — Peppers played linebacker, safety, running back and returned kicks for the Wolverines — come into his own down the stretch.

"He's come light years. I think it would be better for him to say it to you than me," defensive coordinator Gregg Williams said last week. Williams also defended the idea that Peppers, who started at free safety this season but played closer toward the line of scrimmage in college, can effectively play both positions.

"I laugh and I smile about the fact that he can do a lot more than anybody else thinks he can do. How far he came in those space plays made him even better in the box," Williams said. "There are some really, really, really dominant personality similarities between him and (rookie defensive end and first-overall draft pick) Myles (Garrett) from a pride standpoint. He's a very prideful young man. When you see him out on the field now, he didn't know what to say, how to say it, and from a leadership standpoint. Now, he talks the talk on the field now like a backup middle linebacker … He's just scratched the surface. He'll do more next year, defensively, offensively, special teams wise. He's just a good football player."

Peppers, asked if the jump from college to the NFL was tougher than expected, shook his head.

"I wouldn't necessarily say it was a hard transition, I just didn't make the plays that I was supposed to make," he said. "That sparked a lot of discussion about a lot of things just because I wasn't making plays that I normally make."

Peppers hopes he can quiet that noise next season.

"I'm no stranger to adversity in my life," he said. "This is just another thing that's going to make us bounce back better from knowing this feeling to never want to experience this again."

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