By Sam McPherson
Name: Karl Joseph
Weight: 205 lbs.
Position: Strong Safety
School: West Virginia
Draft Pick: 14th overall in First Round
The Oakland Raiders lost one of the all-time great defensive backs in the history of the National Football League to retirement after last season, and to replace Charles Woodson in the secondary is impossible. No one expects first-round draft pick Karl Joseph to step in and be a Hall of Fame player in Week 1, but the Silver & Black do have very high hopes for their prized rookie nonetheless.
Joseph is projected to start in the Raiders secondary right away, and in the AFC West Division that is stacked with dynamic offensive attacks in Denver, Kansas City and San Diego, the Oakland defense’s ability to hold those teams down will determine just how far the Silver & Black advance in 2016. The Raiders finished a surprising 7-9 last year in the first year under head coach Jack Del Rio, and more is expected of the team this year.
Defensively, Oakland had its best season in years under Del Rio’s guidance, holding its opponents to under 400 points overall for the first time since 2010. Joseph steps into the strong safety position knowing he has to be one of the leaders on the defensive side of the ball right away if the Raiders are going to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2002 season.
He certainly has the capability: Joseph was First-Team All-Big XII in 2014 as a junior with the West Virginia Mountaineers when he made 82 tackles and forced two fumbles. He suffered a knee injury in his senior year that forced him to miss the final nine games of 2015, but before the injury, Joseph was leading the nation with five intercepted passes. In his four-year collegiate career spanning 41 total games, Joseph registered 201 solo tackles and 73 assisted tackles, while also notching nine INTs, 16 tackles for lost yardage, five fumble recoveries and three forced fumbles.
Joseph also played cornerback his freshman season in college, so he’s a versatile secondary presence who can cover and hit. Does that sound like anyone the Raiders have recently employed? Woodson may be retired, but his style of play is going to stay with the Oakland secondary for as long as Joseph puts on the Silver & Black uniform.
The strong safety position isn’t a strong one for the Raiders right now in terms of depth, so the team has been cautious with Joseph through the offseason and training camp due to his knee injury. Obviously, it didn’t scare the Oakland front office from making the first-round selection, but that didn’t mean the team didn’t want to be careful, either. Below Joseph on the depth chart are two waiver-claim players (Brynden Trawick and Dewey McDonald) and a former seventh-round pick (Dexter McDonald).
The Raiders are putting a lot on the line with Joseph in terms of their defensive and postseason hopes in 2016. Upfront, Oakland’s defense took great strides last year, improving 10 spots in the league rankings for points allowed. Linebacker Khalil Mack is a stud, and the team has a good blend of youth and experience on the defensive line. Toss in cornerback David Amerson’s tremendous talent, and suddenly the Raiders defense could be one to be feared in the NFL.
Overall, Joseph steps into an ideal situation: He gets to start right away on a team with a strong defensive coaching staff—in addition to Del Rio, Oakland’s defensive coordinator is three-time Super Bowl champion Ken Norton, Jr.—and he gets to be a part of a rich NFL tradition with the Silver & Black in Oakland. What more could a rookie ask for?
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering baseball, football, basketball, golf, hockey and fantasy sports for CBS, AXS and Examiner. He also is an Ironman triathlete and certified triathlon coach.