Relegated to special teams, rumored to be on the trade block and — finally — back to an enforcer role on the first-team defense. Karl Joseph’s third year with the Oakland Raiders has been as theatrical as Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride at Disneyland or that Tunnel of Terror scene in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.
Dubbed as “too small” and pegged as someone “that doesn’t make enough plays” in the snaps given to him, Jon Gruden’s coaching staff rendered the No. 14 overall pick in 2016 an afterthought — an expendable component. It did not help he injured himself when a blitz against the Miami Dolphins went awry.
Granted, the West Virginia product is generously listed at 5-foot-10 and 205 pounds. But it the last two games where he’s seen substantial action — and remained healthy — the spark plug is proving he’s got more wallop in that small frame than any other safety on the Raiders roster. Just ask running backs Melvin Gordon (Los Angeles Chargers) and David Johnson (Arizona Cardinals). Because when Joseph sniffs out the run and comes downhill, he has that Clubber Lang mentality: “Pain”.
Both Gordon and Johnson were well on their way in bobbing and weaving and eventually sprinting through the Raiders front four and linebacking unit. Then you see a blur that is No. 42, a hit, and down goes the ball carrier — with authority.
Not bad for a “Smurf” of a safety, no?
Gruden and Co. have realized it and welcome it.
“He’s starting to recognize plays and smell plays out,” Gruden said after the Raiders’ 23-21 win over the Cardinals this past Sunday. “And he usually arrives in a pretty bad mentality. He’s a tough guy. We need a physical presence at or near the line of scrimmage and I think he can help us do that.”
The increased awareness was on full display when teammate and cornerback Rashaan Melvin deflected a Josh Rosen pass that fluttered towards the middle of the field. And there was Joseph, diving and catching the ball for the interception. 10 total tackles and a pick in the last two games from Joseph … that goes to show the Smurf & Turf safety alignment is superior to any of the previous combinations defensive coordinator Paul Guenther has deployed this year.
Forget the Pro Football Focus grades or rankings. Just trust your eyes and take in what you are seeing. When Joseph is playing, the Raiders defense has a sorely-needed backend enforcer. One that lays the lumber more efficiently than Home Depot or Lowe’s.
Is it perfect?
Nope. Far from it, even.
Joseph will always be too small to man up the bigger and equally athletic tight ends of today’s NFL.
But for a team that’s seen tragic play at the safety position, Joseph’s steadying presence is a god send. Moreover, that is a pretty big deal, in itself — Grades, rankings and debates be damned.