Raiders safety and former first-round pick Karl Joseph has worked his way into becoming an every-down player in defensive coordinator Paul Guenther’s scheme. After Jon Gruden showed up, Joseph was thought to have been a lost cause but has secured more playing time through hard work and positive results.
That’s a sharp contrast to earlier in the season when he couldn’t even get onto the field. As trade rumors swirled, it wasn’t even a foregone conclusion that the third-year defensive back would finish the year on the roster. Now, he is making a case to be considered the best safety the team currently employs.
“He’s playing good,” Gruden said at last Monday’s press conference. “He’s been a really good open field tackler. I think he’s showing really good range. He’s recognizing plays and he’s making plays. That’s exciting. He’s getting better and better in this defense.”
Of course, Joseph has always been known for his big hits and solid tackling skills. In his three seasons, he has recorded 168 total tackles with 121 of them coming solo. He only has three tackles for loss and one hit on the quarterback though those infinitesimal numbers more reflect the lack of blitz opportunities than an indictment of his talent.
His 5-foot-1o stature has been looked at as an impediment covering larger receiving targets, especially tight ends. He has begun to prove those concerns are unfounded and has been a bit of a revelation in the secondary.
It has been his coverage skills that have been questioned during his time in Oakland. His 5-foot-1o stature has been looked at as an impediment covering larger receiving targets, especially tight ends. He has begun to prove those concerns are unfounded and has been a bit of a revelation in the secondary.
Kansas City wide receiver Tyreek Hill may be the fastest player currently in the NFL. Expecting any defensive back to cover him without deep help would be a recipe for disaster. Joseph provided that deep coverage perfectly on this play. As any observer can attest, this hasn’t been a common occurrence in recent history.
Hill’s angle route is designed to split the two-deep-safety shell which it initially does to perfection. It is only Joseph’s quick recognition and reaction that prevents this play from ending in a touchdown. He stay’s “deeper than the deepest” and undercuts Hill as the ball gets to him. He also does a great job of getting his eyes back on the ball avoiding a pass interference call.
Joseph has averaged one interception per year over the course of his career. The zone defenses that Guenther has favored should help get that number up. Secondary players are going to be graded more and more on their ability to create turnovers. Like many young players, that is the next step in Joseph’s development and his new found playing time will provide him the opportunity to do so.
“I don’t think he lacks confidence,” Gruden continued. “He’s a first-round draft choice. He has a lot of talent. I think he’s taking advantage of his opportunities. He’s healthy. He’s been able to practice. I think his preparation has a lot to do with his performance. He’s strung some really good weeks together for us.”
Those really good weeks have Joseph currently sitting atop the depth chart. These last few games are far more of an audition for next season than anything else. If he builds on his recent success he should start next year on the field.
Joseph’s resurrection is proof, once again, that sometimes the best trades are those you sometimes don’t make.