Raider fans have been binging on highlight hits ever since Karl Joseph was drafted by the team. There is something intoxicating about watching this 205 lb. missile get a head of steam from the safety position and demolish guys much bigger than him.
You can’t help but respect Joseph for his fearlessness, but we’ve seen this before. Mike Mitchell had a highlight reel that might rival Joseph’s. So what is it that will separate Joseph? He is an extremely versatile defender that compares more favorably to Tyrann Mathieu than one-dimensional, hard hitting safeties like Dashon Goldson.
Joseph's technical prowess in zone, ability to cover man, and toughness in the box will make him a welcomed addition to the Coach Ken Norton’s defense. The Raiders mainly use a single-high coverage, meaning there will be one safety deep and one safety in the box. I wrote about the the Raider’s defensive scheme and coverages extensively here.
I assume Joseph will play most of his snaps in the box, while Reggie Nelson will assume the Charles Woodson role and play mostly in the deep middle of the field. Joseph will play in the deep secondary when the Raiders are in Cover-2, but I don’t expect to see him much in the deep middle in the Raiders' base single-high coverages. Obviously, this could change with motions and shifts, but Joseph’s versatility and skills will be best taken advantage of in box.
Joseph’s physicality will help in the run game. Not only because he isn’t afraid to go up and make a tackle, but because he isn’t afraid to take on blockers, whether they are full backs, tight ends, or linemen. It might not make the highlight reel, but taking on blockers with physicality and the proper leverage is equally as important as making big hits.
This play is well blocked and the running back looks as if he could get loose in the secondary. A guard is coming straight at Joseph to block him, and if he gets blocked that would leave the running back with a two-way go against the corner. Joseph is 205 lbs. and the guard looks like he is 300+, this should be an easy block. But Joseph lowers his shoulder and plows into the guard, knocking him over, and forces the running back to cut right into the waiting arms of the corner. What could have been a ten yard gain or more, was stopped for a four yard gain. The play displays Joseph's "I don't give a damn" mentally and an understanding of leverage. If he tried to go on the other side of the block, the running back would have cut inside and gotten a more sizable gain.
Curl to Flats
The Raiders base coverage is Cover-3. It is a zone coverage with two corners and the free safety defending the deep area of the field by dividing it into three. The second level defenders cover the intermediate to short area. Joseph will be asked to play in the curl to flats zone, which he has shown he is able to do with great instincts and technique.
Joseph quickly recognizes pass by reading the offensive line. Compare how quickly he drops back into coverage with the defender in the flats on the other side of the field. You can see he gets his head turned towards the receiver rather than just drop back looking at the QB. By doing so he drops perfectly into the area the receiver stops his route. Then he gets his head around in time to locate the ball and then high points the ball for a beautiful interception.
Having a versatile safety that could play man coverage is an unique advantage for the defense. Bill Belichick talked about this advantage in an interview:
"...as the offenses have gotten more spread out, as the offenses have put more skill players on the field, as the tight ends have become more athletic and less of the conventional kind of power-blocking type guys, those match-ups keep getting tougher an tougher. I'd say there is a definite movement towards safeties that can play corner..."
Joseph could give coach Norton an answer to these match up problems, as he excelled in man coverage at West Virginia. This doesn't mean that his man to man coverage skills will translate to the NFL, but if they do he would essentially play two positions. He could be a safety in running situations or an extra corner on the field for the Raiders. It is becoming harder to harder to substitute with the rise of no-huddle offenses and being able to leave Joseph on the field will be a luxury. Also, some of the coverages the Raiders play are zone/man concepts, meaning a zone coverage could become man to man.
In particular, the Raider’s rip/liz coverage. To the bottom of the screen, the TJ Carrie is playing a zone/ man technique. If the slot receiver runs a vertical route, he will cover him man to man. Slot receivers in the NFL are usually the craftiest route runners on the team, so having a defender with man to man skills is an absolute must. When the Raiders are in their nickel with TJ Carrie and Joseph in, they will be able to cover man to man across the board in the secondary, an ability they did not have last year.
Taylor Mays took a lot of snaps at the strong safety positions last year and although there were times he flashed, his coverage skills and consistency left a lot to be desired.
Against a mediocre receiver in Jared Abbrederis, he gets completely turned around in man coverage. Abbrederis is running a simple speed out, but Mays shuffles outside and opens up his hips the wrong way. You can see how tight his hips are. Instead of turning his body and redirecting, he awkwardly back pedals, which gives him no chance to make a play on the ball.
Compare this play to one that Joseph made. It is against a college receiver, but you can see that Joseph is much more natural in man coverage. He opens up his hips in the correct direction, towards the receiver, and runs his route for him. He makes a great break on the ball and gets the interception on the out route.
I expect Joseph to be a massive upgrade over Taylor Mays and Nate Allen. He is a very unique defender and his plethora of skills shine wherever he is, but he could be the biggest menace to opposing quarterbacks while he is the box. We all are excited to see him make some of his signature hits, but I’m more eager to see how Norton/ Del Rio are going deploy him.
To get more in-depth analysis, check out my website.
Follow me on Twitter: @RaidersAnalysis