When NFL fans around the nation think of the Raiders’ defense, perennial All-Pro Khalil Mack’s name is the first player they think of. Climbing rapidly up that list is Karl Joseph.
For WVU fans of the NFL, any Oakland Raider game is Must See TV. The WVUPro duo of Joseph and Bruce Irvin–arguable two of the best defensive players to come out of Morgantown this century–line up alongside each other and often combine to make plays.
Irvin is a solid player for the Raiders’ defense, playing a hybrid DE/OLB position. You find him often rushing the passer or dropping back into pass coverage. As always throughout his career, opposing offensive linemen need to account for where Irvin is lined up on any given play or they could find him on top of the QB they are protecting by the end of the play.
The same applies now for Karl Joseph. When the Raiders drafted him with the 14th overall selection in the 2016 NFL Draft, they knew they had to be patient with him. At the time of the draft, Joseph was in the middle of recovering from an ACL injury. They didn’t need to see him perform at the NFL Combine or in private workouts. They spoke with him and had all the tape they needed to know he was worthy of being drafted that high.
He played in 12 games his rookie season, limited by the ACL injury at the beginning of the season, and a toe injury at the end. He finished with 60 tackles.
He is on pace to blow by that tally within the next few weeks.
Now having a full, healthy offseason to spend practicing with the team, Joseph has stepped his up his game. He leads the team in tackles with 36 and has one sack to go with that. Many look at that total and think it is a bad look for a team’s leading tackler to be a safety, but if you look inside the numbers and how they use Joseph, you will see that all is not as it seems.
One of the reasons the Raiders drafted Joseph was his ability to play down in the box in run support. Defensive Coordinator Ken Norton Jr. uses Joseph like a hybrid safety/OLB. The hard hits that he was known for coming out of WVU has translated to the NFL. He’s fearless in run and pass defense.
They use him all over the field, whether as an attacker, last line of defense, or a rover creating havoc all around the defense.
He helped best last season in run support, but as this season wears on, he’s becoming more complete defending against the pass. Last week against the Ravens, he allowed only one pass to be completed by a player whom he was covering. The result of that one completion against him: -3 yards.
The Raiders have lost their last three games, due largely to injuries to QB Derek Carr and inconsistent CB play.
Joseph has been one of the bright spots for the Raiders D thus far this season. He was PFF’s top-rated safety in Week 2, due in large part because the game plan was for him to blitz the Jets’ Josh McCown, resulting in his one sack this season and 4 hurries.
“If you watch him closely, I’m sure you have, you see his development has been really, really nice,” Norton Jr. said. “He was very active last week. He’s really good close to the line of scrimmage. He’s a really good tackler in the open field. He also plays well on the back end. I think his development is right on time right now.”
While Mack sets the tone on the defensive front, Joseph has stepped up in Year 2 to lead the backend.
When he steps out on the field, does Joseph worry about getting injured again? Nope.
“You can’t play worried about getting hurt. That’s not the way I play,” Joseph said. “It’s about being smart. I had to adjust my game coming into the NFL. Every hit can’t be a big hit. Sometimes you have to be smart and just wrap people up, but you can’t ever play scared.”
You know who should be scared on this Friday the 13th? The Los Angeles Chargers and Philip Rivers. They’re next up for the Raiders and squarely in Joseph’s cross-hairs.