Karl Joseph has been getting a lot of love from NFL coaches, players and analysts since the Raiders made him their first-round pick in the recent draft.
The strong safety from West Virginia, who comes with a reputation as a big-time hitter, has been compared by Raiders assistant defensive backs coach Rod Woodson to the Seahawks’ Earl Thomas and former Colts standout Bob Sanders. Neither was big by NFL safety standards, but both were impact players in coverage and with their hitting ability.
Joseph is 5-foot-10 and 205 pounds.
“Not so big in stature, but physical and fast,” Woodson told Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com. “He has an innate instinct. He’s a perfect fit for what we want to accomplish here.”
Joseph also was selected this week as one of Chase Goodbread’s top six Defensive Rookie of the Year candidates for NFL.com.
Wrote Goodbread: “Joseph’s hard-hitting style should make the Raiders’ secondary a more intimidating unit, but it’s his coverage skills that got him off the draft board (No. 14 overall) so quickly. He’ll be in a bright spotlight as the presumed replacement for nine-time Pro Bowler Charles Woodson, but if he rises to that challenge, he’ll garner all the more attention in a pass defense that struggled last season (allowed 259 yards per game).
“With tight ends like Travis Kelce and Antonio Gates elsewhere in the AFC West, Oakland needs someone who can help control the middle of the field.”
Cornerbacks always have been the stars of NFL secondaries. Shutdown corners such as former Raiders Lester Hayes and Mike Haynes or current stars like Seattle’s Richard Sherman or Washington’s Josh Norman can take elite wide receivers right out of a game.
But in recent years the value of safeties to a defense has risen to a higher status. With the NFL now more of a passing league, elite safeties who can do it all are at the hub of every top-notch defense in the league.
In 2014, ESPN NFL analyst Wayne Drehs wrote about the impact of safeties in a story headlined, “Rapid Rise of the safety position.” He quoted one successful longtime NFL scout as saying: “The spread offense has forced the game to evolve so much so quickly. Safeties are important now (more) than ever.”
If Joseph proves to be as good as advertised, Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie will have made his third straight great first-round pick, following receiver Amari Cooper in 2015 and defensive end/linebacker Khalil Mack in 2014.