Heading into the 2016 NFL draft the Raiders had no real gaping holes in their roster.
A testament to the job general manager Reggie McKenzie has done the past three off seasons improving the overall talent on the team. With another good performance in this draft, the Raiders could go from wild card hopefuls, to AFC West contenders.
With the 14th pick of the first round Oakland looked to upgrade a secondary and minimize the void left by the retirement of Charles Woodson, when they selected University of West Virginia strong safety Karl Joseph.
Reggie McKenzie showed once again he wasn’t afraid to pull the trigger on a player that he covets early, even if he’s coming off an injury
“Picking at 14 its hard to decide who’s going to be there, let me tell you one thing, we wanted Karl Joseph from day one, so we were happy to get him when he came at 14.”
Joseph, a 5’11 and 200-pound human missile is a smaller stature safety in the mold of San Diego Safety Eric Weddle but plays big for his size. He’s a big time hitter that defends the run from the inside the box extremely well and also possesses great cover skills in both man and zone coverage for a safety.
He zooms around all over the field rallying to wherever the ball. With a special ability to be in the right place at the right time, Josephs game isn’t hurt by a lack of overall top end speed, he has enough athleticism and smarts allowing him to take good angles to the ball.
Joseph has shown to be a great open field tackler that loves contact and mixing it up with blockers, that also isn’t afraid to take on linemen and bigger backs thumping through the line of scrimmage.
He showed no fear when tackling second round Alabama running back Derrick Henry, getting low, and placing his head and shoulders right on Henry’s thigh pad numerous times to bring down the huge running back.
“By watching the tape, you can feel his passion, you can feel his intensity in the way he plays. He has a very aggressive mentality. He can play all over the field and he’ll run and hit anything that moves.”
If the former Mountaineer has a weakness its that he can come into the play too hot and overpressure.
In some instances, in college he ran himself out of the play. While he is praised by coaches for his toughness, durability should be a concern.
His play is reminiscent of former Colts Pro-Bowler Bob Sanders, who couldn’t handle the rigors of the aggressive style.
His is also still recovering from an ACL injury during a non-contact drill in practice, so he could struggle with mobility and lateral movements early in the season.
Describing his own playing style Joseph said:
“I’m a dog. I play with a lot of intensity; I play with a chip on my shoulder. I’m very confident in myself. I play with a deep passion and love for the game.”
Joseph, a team captain, led the nation with five interceptions after just four weeks before suffering a season ending knee injury in practice. His elite ball hawking ability and soft hands allow him to collect interceptions.
Head coach Jack Del Rio acknowledged the team’s eagerness to upgrade a secondary that ranked 26th in pass defense last season, allowing 258.8 yards per-game through the air.
Del Rio said:
“Well we are looking to be really good on defense, obviously we’ve talked about secondary play and our desire to have it perform at a high level. I think the temperament that he brings and the intensity that he plays with are things that we covet.”
If healthy, Joseph figures to go step a training camp competition with last seasons seventh round draft pick T.J. Carrie for one of the starting safety spots to start along side off season signing Reggie Nelson.
In divisional matchups, Joseph looks to have an easier time than he would have last season, quarterback Peyton Manning loved to pick on rookies, but he is no longer in Denver.
The Broncos will have either rookie Paxton Lynch or former sensation, now journeyman, Mark Sanchez lining across the line of scrimmage.
Joseph will have more than enough on his plate with a Denver offense that is stacked with receivers, but the Broncos’ scheme is run-first and balancing the threats will likely be a learning experience.
Emmanuel Sanders lined up both in the slot and out wide last season and will be feed the ball when the two teams play regardless of who is covering him. Demaryius Thomas is always a threat to catch quick screens, a useful wrinkle in the Broncos offence to get him the ball in space.
Philip Rivers is a year older but the offense remains dangerous. Stevie Johnson has been known to give opposing defenders fits with both his play and his antics and he figures to continue his duties in the slot with Keenan Allen and newly signed Travis Benjamin on the outside.
Andy Reid is considered an offensive genius and owns an astounding 15-2 record coming off a bye week.
The Chiefs and Raiders meet in Oakland week 6 after the Chiefs bye so Reid will have a great plan on how to attack the Raider defense and more than likely take his shots against the rookie, even though the Chiefs roster, especially at wide receiver, leaves a lot to be desired.
His toughest matchup could come on week one against the Saints when the Raiders open the season in New Orleans.
While the ingredients may be different after a roster overhaul to clean up the salary cap, the two head chefs are still there in quarterback Drew Brees and head coach Sean Payton, two of the most offensively gifted minds in the NFL.
It’s highly likely Payton and Brees will look to bust the rookies chops and test his resolve in his first game.
From there, the Raiders will have their home opener against Julio Jones, Matt Ryan and the rest of the Atlanta Falcons. Jones, one of the few truly elite receivers in the NLF, often forces added attention, and the Falcons will do everything they can to get a matchup against the rookie rather than a veteran.
The Raiders made sure they got the guy they wanted most, not wavering form Joseph even when higher more touted prospects appeared to be within reach. And it’s tough to argue with their selection.