New defensive schemes will usually bring new positions and roles to for the players that remain with the turnover. For Lamarcus Joyner, it’s not as much learning a new position as it is picking up where he left off. You see, Joyner was recruited by Florida State to play safety in defensive coordinator Mark Stoops’ defense. Rivals had Joyner ranked first among his position, first in the state of Florida, 14th nationally, and a five-star recruit in the 2010 recruiting class. Quite honestly, Joyner could have played any position he was asked to play, considering he played linebacker, wide receiver, defensive back, was a return specialist on special teams and excelled in all phases.
In his freshman season at Florida State, Joyner was not a starter. Despite this, he was third on the team in passes defended, with three, and was able to record an interception. After seeing him in a limited role, coach Stoops moved Joyner to starting safety for his sophomore season. In that role he started all 13 games, recording four interceptions and three passes defended. Joyner led the team in both categories, earning him All-ACC second team honors. The 2012 season saw a dip in numbers for Joyner, though he did have an interception and remained the starter. However, uncertainty loomed after defensive coordinator Stoops left to become the head coach of Kentucky.
Uncertainty turned to change for Joyner, who was moved to a cornerback role for his final season at Florida State. It was arguably his best season there, as he had two interceptions, four passes defended, three forced fumbles, seven tackles for loss, and an impressive team-leading five and a half sacks. Mind you, this came on a team that featured Tim Jernigan and Mario Edwards Jr. He finished his career at Florida State with eight interceptions and 10 passes defended. Of that total, six interceptions and six passes defended came as a safety. Joyner also just missed out on the Jim Thorpe Award (Given to the NCAA’s top defensive back), losing to Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard.
Entering the 2014 NFL draft, Joyner was downgraded for his lack of size, despite his outstanding play in four years at Florida State. A lot of Rams fans were calling for a quarterback or wide receiver. Certainly, it came as a little bit of a surprise when the Rams gave up a fifth-round pick to move up three spots in order to take Joyner 41st overall. Despite trading up for him, the Rams were set at cornerback with Janoris Jenkins and a combo of Trumaine Johnson and E.J. Gaines on the other side, as well as at safety with T.J. McDonald and Rodney McCleod. With the depth, Joyner played around 25 percent of the team’s snaps in his rookie season but saw his share of targets while playing slot cornerback. He made the most of things, recording a pass defended and 32 solo tackles.
It is fair to wonder what role Joyner would have played had Gaines not went down with an injury. Joyner was brought aboard after a Johnson injury, possibly as insurance. Once again, it was “Next man up” mentality for Joyner as he played his most amount of snaps in a season that still holds true in the 2017 season. He again thrived in his slot cornerback role, breaking up five passes and tying for seventh in solo tackles among the league’s cornerbacks with 65.
With the Rams losing cornerback Janoris Jenkins in the offseason and E.J. Gaines coming back from injury, Joyner was primed to take over the side opposite Trumaine Johnson, though that was not the case. There were some fans calling for Joyner to shift back to a safety role to fill in for the dynamic and increased role lost with the departure of Rodney McCleod, this was, again, not the case. Instead, Joyner stayed in his slot cornerback role, which he was better at than most. He recorded another four passes defended in the 2016 season. However, with more turnover came more uncertainty.
Back at safety
Once again, uncertainty turned into change for Joyner. Though, this time he was just remembering how to ride a metaphorical bike he had already ridden before. The uncertainty started to take shape after the Rams’ new regime brought in Nickell Robey-Coleman, 2016’s best slot cornerback in the league. Why would a team bring in a slot corner if they already had one? They wouldn’t. The move, combined with the loss of T.J. McDonald signaled the Joyner would change defensive positions in a new defense. The most seamless transition you may see in a defensive scheme and position change may be what we are all witnessing with Joyner in 2017.
In his first game back at safety, Joyner recorded his first NFL interception, which he returned for a touchdown. The young defender also had a pass defended while recording four tackles. When Sean McVay elected to pull starters Joyner was one of the first removed. That action alone was a clear indicator of how crucial he will be this season. Things changed a little when Joyner injured his hamstring in his week two matchup against the 49ers. That injury led him to miss most of week three and the following three weeks.
Don’t worry though, there have been no signs of slowing down by him. Since returning in week 7 Joyner has recorded his second NFL interception and broken up two more passes for a quarterback rating of only 21.2 allowed in his coverage. Next up is a Cardinals team that just beat a Jaguars team that boasts arguably the best defense around. The Rams safety has reason to be confident. In the first matchup, Joyner did record his second interception of the year against the Cardinals back in week seven.
Joyner excelled as a slot corner his first few seasons in the NFL, no doubt about it. However, the arrival of Wade Phillips and the position change might just turn his career from good to great. At the end of the day, Joyner is a very instinctual player who reacts and makes plays. Nothing epitomizes his passion and love for the game of football more than the infamous scene of “Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Los Angeles Rams” where Joyner basically asking to be released and saying they could have all of the money they gave him back because it’s not about money to him. He wanted a role, a starting role, and he knew he deserved it. Those are the players that you want leading your team and having your younger players take up after.
Joyner has been rewarded for his patience and passion. The new regime has entered and recognized Joyner’s talents for what they truly are. Now, the only uncertainty for Joyner is whether or not the Rams will be able to retain him at the end of the season or if he will be playing elsewhere… because he is going to get paid.