McKenzie Goes Safety First for Raiders

General manager takes hard-hitting West Virginia safety Karl Joseph in the first round, bypassing UCLA standout linebacker Myles Jack

In all the lead-up to Thursday night’s draft, Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie said he’d take the best player available when Oakland’s turn came up at No. 14.

Yet when the time came, McKenzie decided to select West Virginia safety Karl Joseph rather than UCLA linebacker Myles Jack.

Jack, a dynamic playmaker for the Bruins, was ranked by many among the best talents in this year’s draft, a sure top-five selection. But when he tumbled down the draft board Thursday night in the wake of questions about the long-term stability of his recently repaired knee, McKenzie decided to pass on the linebacker and take Joseph, rated as the best safety available.

Joseph, 5-foot-10 and 205 pounds, also is coming off a knee injury that cost him a good chunk of his final season with the Mountaineers. But he’s known as a hitter and playmaker. The scouting report on Joseph noted he has a nose for the ball, has great instincts and an ability to leap and battle for the football. The report by Lance Zierlein of NFL.com said Joseph is a “wolf looking for his next meal as a hitter.”

His knee injury, a torn ACL, raised some questions before the draft, and some scouts also were critical of his coverage abilities, but he’s noted as a fierce competitor and Zierlein believes he will be “an early starter and high-impact safety.”

Joseph has a chance to fight veteran Nate Allen for a starting job alongside free-agent pickup Reggie Nelson. Immediately, he makes the Raiders talent and depth at the position much better.

The question is, after hitting home runs with his No. 1 picks in his past two drafts – with Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper – will McKenzie’s decision to take Joseph instead of a talent such as Mack come back to haunt him? The initial reaction from some analysts and fans Thursday night was that Joseph was a bit of a reach pick or more of a selection of need rather than best player available.

Then again, if his knee is sound, Joseph could quickly become the heir apparent to the retired Charles Woodson.

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