Karl Joseph missed two tackles as a rookie last season. Two.
That was during a campaign where the Oakland Raiders’ heat-seeking missile of a safety readily admits he was not 100 percent mentally and physically. Not surprising considering Joseph did not participate much in offseason activities as he was mending from an ACL tear that wiped out most of his senior season at West Virginia.
“I came in hurt and I couldn’t really do much,” Joseph said. “This year, just being able to go through the offseason with the guys, more than just the football part of it, but like just being able to bond with the guys and get a feel for some of the guys I think has been very helpful.”
That is excellent news for the Raiders. Horrendous for the opposition. Think about it. A hesitant Joseph showed he must be accounted for (60 tackles, one interception, six pass deflections) … what is the definitive version going to do?
I will give you a hint: Pain.
The 5-foot-10, 205-pound Joseph is primed to deliver the hurt. That half-second lapse in judgment, gone. Instead, the killer instinct and confidence that made Joseph a fearsome and ferocious defender as a Mountaineer is resurfacing in his second year as a Raider.
“I think if you watch him, you see Karl making checks, he’s disguising, he’s blitzing, he’s covering, he’s hitting. I saw a couple of times he used his shoulder today, put his body on people, he’s explosive,” Raiders defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said of Joseph. “Everything you saw earlier in his career, and the reason he’s here is because he’s got all of that. I think he’s really eager to get this thing going.”
Despite Joseph’s smaller frame — especially compared to rookie safety Obi Melifonwu (6-4, 225) — he provides prototypical strong safety hitting and tackling ability to go along with model free safety range and ball-hawk skills. He is truly an interchangeable type and can be shuttled from one safety spot to another. Joseph is also the archetype player coaches seek in prospects. By that, he combines athleticism and ability with football IQ and work ethic.
“He’s a tireless worker. There’s no shortage of energy from him and desire from him to want to improve and become a really good football player,” said Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio. “We liked a lot about what we drafted and I think he’s healthier now. We’re getting a chance to see more of what he can be as he’s healthier and has a little bit of experience.”
He even picks quarterback Derek Carr’s brain.
“I talk to D.C. [Derek Carr] sometimes after practice like, ‘What did you see in some of our disguises.’ I think him being one of the best quarterbacks in the league, a lot of our disguises, he’ll pick it up but just a regular quarterback wouldn’t be able to pick it up,” Joseph noted. “He’s been very helpful for that too when I ask him like, ‘What did you think you saw there?’ I think we’ve been pretty good as far as disguising and stuff like that.”
Something that cannot be hidden or disguised, however, is the impending impact a healthy Joseph will have on the Raiders defensively.