INDIANAPOLIS – Raiders safety Karl Joseph started last season down on the depth chart. He wasn't a started or particularly active reserve early on and then suffered a hamstring injury but finished the year as defensive mainstay.
The coaching staff craved out a strength-accentuating role for Joseph, allowing him to move around the backfield, play near the line of scrimmage and occasionally rush the passer.
Joseph became a productive player and a defensive tone setter with his trademark physicality often lost in his first two seasons.
That has given the Raiders reason to stick with the 2016 first-round pick. Head coach Jon Gruden said he anticipates the Raiders exercising Joseph's fifth-year option, an action that must happen before early May.
"I hope so," head coach Jon Gruden said Wednesday at the NFL Scouting Combine. "I'll let (new GM Mike Mayock) comment on that later, but it appears that way, yes."
Exercising it doesn't necessarily mean Joseph's locked in for the 2020 season, after the main portion of his rookie contract expires. The money isn't guaranteed until the 2020 league year begins. It does set Joseph's 2020 fifth-year option salary at the third and 25th-highest salaries at his position.
Gruden liked seeing Joseph progress in learning the Raiders defensive scheme and finding a role within it.
"He asserted himself as a leader on this football team," Gruden said.
The Raiders will count on Joseph as the starting strong safety, though the free safety spot remains uncertain. Joseph must continue to prove himself consistent over an entire season, making himself worthy of what should be a hefty sum in 2020 under the fifth-year option.