As has been said many times this offseason, the Raiders have a lot of needs. Safety was one of them and so was slot/nickel corner. When the Raiders went after Lamarcus Joyner, they were looking to kill two birds with one stone.
Joyner was listed with the safeties as a free agent because that’s where he played last season as part of the Rams Super Bowl run. But safety doesn’t define him. He’s played all over the secondary. That’s what he likes. That’s what defines him as a player.
“It’s just something I’ve been doing since little league,” Joyner said over conference call. “I mean, high school, college, going from nickel to safety, nickel to safety, it’s what keeps me going. It keeps the season moving, refreshing for me. One season to be at nickel, the next to be at free safety. It motivates me to just enjoy the game much more. Just being able to have that versatility and being able to show one thing one year and another the next year.”
That versatility to fill two holes is what the Raiders saw in him as well. And that interest had the Florida native literally turn completely around from his original plan as a free agent.
“My initial thoughts were to get back to the East Coast, to kind of get back closer to home after being on the West Coast for three years,” said Joyner. “And in my mind I thought nothing was going to change that until I heard coach Gruden call. I kind of did a whole 180. After talking to him and some of the guys in the building, I was very excited about the way they were going to use me and how people were happy to have me here. So, that was the biggest decision making point for me.”
When the Raiders signed him, the thought process for me was wait, they can’t really be looking to pair up a 5-8 free safety with the 5-10 (generously) Karl Joseph who does his best work as a free safety, can they? That led to the natural answer to that question being that he was destined to be the team’s nickel corner in a similar role to the one Marcus Gilchrist played last season. That’s indeed the case.
“I love the nickel back position. It’s a natural instinctual position for me,” Joyner continued. “I get to do a lot of things, I’m great at tackling, I’m great at beating guys to the point, I’m great at covering. There’s a lot of things that the nickel kind of has tied up into its identity as a role that fits me, so I’m very excited.”
You have to be a smart player to switch back and forth from nickel to safety on the fly the way Joyner does. Every indication I got from him was that he is an extremely smart guy. That intelligence is what the staff gushed about with regard to Marcus Gilchrist and why they talked about Gilchrist becoming a coach once his playing days are over.
The issue with Gilchrist is that he’s a fringe NFL starter. He can get you by in a pinch, but he isn’t going to take your secondary to the next level. Joyner has that ability. He was retained last season by the Rams on the franchise tag and became a big part of their run to the Super Bowl.
Joyner’s addition also fits with the Raiders’ decision to re-sign 6-3 safety Erik Harris to a 2-year deal, giving them the requisite size for covering tight ends and lay the wood in the box.
Harris and Karl Joseph emerged over the latter half of last season as the best options the Raiders had at the safety positions with the potential to be the answer long term. They also still have the option of bulking up either the cornerback or safety position further through the draft. Or both.