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Former five-star Michigan WR Donovan Peoples-Jones is a mystery even for NFL teams

USA TODAY SPORTS logo USA TODAY SPORTS 2/26/2020 Rainer Sabin, Detroit Free Press
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INDIANAPOLIS — The mystery that is Donovan Peoples-Jones wasn’t going to be solved Tuesday.

Not at the NFL scouting combine.

Michigan football's former receiver likes to keep things close to the vest, refusing to expound on any subject and resorting to Hemingway-like brevity with simple syntax.

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This version of press coverage, provided by reporters, was easily evaded by Peoples-Jones.

Asked about his decision to forgo his senior season and go pro early, he responded, “I feel like I was ready.”

Told that others thought he may have been underutilized with the Wolverines, he responded, “I'm focused on the combine. I'm focused on being here and showcasing my best abilities here.”

But what those are, after three seasons in Ann Arbor, remains unclear.

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Whether he was indeed unfairly marginalized, Peoples-Jones never showed he was a top playmaker. The most receiving yards he had in a game was 90 and he never caught more than eight passes in a single outing. This past season, 11 of Peoples-Jones’ offensive teammates were graded higher by Pro Football Focus.

As a punt returner, he also offered diminishing returns. After taking one back to the end zone in each of his first two seasons, he failed to score on special teams in 2019 as his overall productivity regressed.

“He's just not real dynamic, in my opinion, when I studied him,” said NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah. “That's kind of the knock on him. In a normal draft, he's probably a second-round pick. In this draft, he's probably a third- or fourth-round pick, just because there's so much depth.”

It’s why Peoples-Jones’ decision to pursue the NFL at this time was so curious. In the fall, one NFL personnel executive told the Free Press that receiver Nico Collins, who elected to return for his final college season, appeared to be the top prospect on Michigan's roster. Flash forward to Tuesday and Peoples-Jones was surrounded by receivers projected to be picked ahead of him. He was sandwiched between a pair of them during interviews – Alabama’s lightning bolt of a wideout Henry Ruggs and Colorado’s top target Laviska Shenault.

Both Ruggs and Shenault drew large crowds of media.

Peoples-Jones did not.

He was probably fine with that.

That meant fewer probing questions.

But Peoples-Jones, at 6 feet 2 and 212 pounds, couldn’t escape the podium before he was asked about the trajectory of his career — specifically how he went from a five-star recruit at Detroit Cass Tech to just another wideout at Michigan, where he had the third-most receiving yards last season.

“I really don't think much about that,” he said. “I really just tried to come in and be a great teammate, do what I can on the field for my team and represent the organization as best as I can.”

a group of football players: Jan 1, 2020; Orlando, Florida, USA; Michigan Wolverines wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones (9) carries the ball against the Alabama Crimson Tide during the first quarter of the 2020 VRBO Citrus Bowl at Camping World Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports © Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports Jan 1, 2020; Orlando, Florida, USA; Michigan Wolverines wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones (9) carries the ball against the Alabama Crimson Tide during the first quarter of the 2020 VRBO Citrus Bowl at Camping World Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Peoples-Jones did that in his own way.

Routinely rolled out in front of the media by Michigan’s sports information department, Peoples-Jones never went off script.

He kept his answers short and never was willing to fill the notebooks of the reporters in his midst.

As dependably reticent as he was off the field, he was as erratic on it. Moments of brilliance would be interspersed with vanishing acts.

“I saw some inconsistencies with him,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said.

Case in point: The penultimate game of his Michigan career, a 56-27 loss to Ohio State. He caught the first three passes thrown his way for 69 yards and a touchdown. Then, just like that, he ghosted the stat box. Patterson’s next nine throws to Peoples-Jones fell incomplete, making a performance that seemed so promising turn into an average affair.

That his final appearance in the rivalry game with the Buckeyes tracked with his career at Michigan was rather poetic.

Yet Peoples-Jones probably didn’t think so.

And if he did, he undoubtedly wouldn’t say.

During his session with the media, Peoples-Jones acknowledged he is who he is, that he really is a bit of a secret — even to the NFL scouts and executives paid to evaluate pro prospects like him

“They don't know much about me, so getting to know me is the big thing,” he revealed.

As Peoples-Jones has proved throughout the years, that’s easier said than done.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Former five-star Michigan WR Donovan Peoples-Jones is a mystery even for NFL teams

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