Las Vegas Raiders safety Karl Joseph

Las Vegas Raiders: Will safety Karl Joseph be back in black in 2020

  • 2020 NFL Free Agency
  • Karl Joseph
  • Las Vegas Raiders
  • Safety
By theoeleven March 10, 2020 0 Comment
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The argument for and against the Las Vegas Raiders keeping safety Karl Joseph following the best season of his career in 2019.

When the Las Vegas Raiders announced they would not be picking up Karl Joseph‘s 5th-year rookie option, it appeared that his time with the franchise was coming to an end. Despite the optics, Jon Gruden made it clear that Joseph could still be a part of the team’s plans. It came just days after the team drafted Jonathan Abram 27th overall.

As the clock quickly ticks down to the beginning of free agency, the Raiders have a difficult decision to make regarding whether to bring Joseph along with them to Las Vegas. When Gruden arrived, Joseph immediately found himself in the dog house. He played about 50 snaps the first eight games (though he missed three due to a hamstring injury). A future in the Silver & Black was bleak.

Through hard work and a positive attitude, he regained his place in the starting lineup following an embarrassing week ten loss to the 49ers. Ultimately, this adversity may have been a turning point in his career. Joseph racked up 42 tackles, 2 PBUs, and 1 INT over the final eight games of the season.

That success parlayed into an excellent start to the 2019 season, where Joseph was playing arguably the best football of his career. Unfortunately, his season was derailed by plantar fasciitis in his right foot that landed him on IR after Week 10. The Raiders were 5-4 at that point in the season.

And now we’re here. Nine months later, the argument for & against keeping Joseph maybe even more convoluted. Karl Joseph has expressed a desire to stay with the team who drafted him 14th overall in 2016. He came into his own in his 2nd season in Paul Guenther’s 2-Deep Zone-based defensive scheme, which highlights his skill set. His estimated AAV is $6M.

Perhaps we should weigh the pros & cons.

Pros

Joseph is at his best in split Safety alignment where he can utilize his smooth backpedal & hip fluidity to roam between the numbers and hashes then leverage excellent straight-line acceleration, play strength, and ball skills to transition to the football and play through receivers to generate PBUs at the catch point; this was on full display vs. Detroit in Week 9 where he climbed up through Logan Thomas to break up the potential game-winning pass in the end zone. His acceleration and speed also give him tremendous value as a blitzer, particularly from box & slot alignment, who possesses the strength to finish on QBs with power.

Joseph displayed solid run supportability and racked up 48 tackles & 4 TFLs during the 2019 season. He possesses the speed and strength to come downhill from the Safety alignment and make plays near the LOS, while also displaying the physicality & competitiveness to the lineup in the box, shoot gaps, defeat TEs/FBs in the hole, and make plays vs. the run in tight space.

Cons

His lack of size and short-area quickness/change of direction caused him to struggle in Man coverage vs. TEs. It is a problem considering he plays in a division with Travis Kelce, the emerging Noah Fant, and potentially Hunter Henry. Covering the TE position has been the primary Achilles heel of Raiders defenses that past several year. Last season he surrendered a QB Rating of 107.5 and 68% Completion (25 targets).

His football instincts and mental processing leave something to be desired. His open-field tackling is decent, but not great. He missed 14% of tackles, leaving him outside the top 100 among qualified defenders in that category in 2019.

Other Options

Mayock is unlikely to shell out big money for a top-flight Safety in Free Agency. Guys like Anthony Harris, Devin McCourty, HaHa Clinton-Dix, and even Tre Boston are probably going to be off the table. However, if they were to look elsewhere to replace Karl Joseph, here are some potential options for a similar price:

Erik Harris

Erik Harris is currently under contract for the upcoming season. We all know how much Jon Gruden loves this guy who is the epitome of a Gruden Grinder. Harris had his best career season (74 Tackles, 8 PBUs, 3 INTs, 2 TDs) in 2019 after he valiantly filled in for Jonathan Abram. The obvious positive here is that his contract is already on the books. Quite frankly is the most likely replacement should Karl Joseph find a new home as he knows the scheme and it is tailored nicely to his skillset & playing style. His adequate athletic ability, physicality, and Man coverage ability are concerns that suggest he is more of a role player than an every-down starter in the NFL.

Vonn Bell

Former New Orleans Saint safety Vonn Bell came from the same draft class as Karl Joseph. A better open-field tackler who also possesses the flexibility to play in the box. Schematically, Bell is a 2-Deep Safety, which falls right in line with Raiders’ defensive scheme. However, his struggles in Man-Man coverage vs. TEs & RBs and intermediate Zone coverage are cause for concern. He’ll likely sign for around the same price as Joseph.

Adrian Phillips

Adrian Phillips graded out at 87.5 last season according to PFF, though only played seven games due to a broken arm. Statistically, he grades out similarly to Karl Joseph vs. the run and possesses a slightly larger frame. Good in Zone coverage, which shows the ability to exchange route concepts and maintain responsibilities from Single-High & 2-Deep alignment. Lacks the same range and ball skills as Joseph, as evidenced by allowing a 88% Completion% (17 targets). Drafted in 2014, he is two years older than Joseph and has played all 6 NFL seasons for the Chargers. Likely will sign for less than he should after coming off of an injury.

Draft

The need at linebacker and potential to get Patrick Queen or Kenneth Murray at #19 likely takes them out of consideration for Grant Delpit & Xavier McKinney. Without a 2nd round pick, they will miss out on Kyle Duggar, Antoine Winfield Jr, and Ashtyn Davis.

The 3rd round may offer one or more of the aforementioned 2nd rounders plus a pair of Utah Safeties Julian Blackmon & Terrell Burgess as well as Jalen Elliot (Notre Dame) and Jeremy Chinn (So. Illinois). Even if the Raiders utilize one of their three 3rd round picks to move up from #12, at least one of these Safeties prospects will be in play.

Prediction

Karl Joseph will be back in the silver and black next season. PFF grades him as the #51 overall Free Agent and 5th best Safety (excluding Justin Simmons), and he carries an affordable price tag for a reliable safety that you can win with who was coming into his own last season before the injury. His high football character coincides well with Gruden’s vision for the team. Furthermore, the ball skills, play strength, and run support are exactly what this defense needs to continue progressing.

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