This will be the first in a series of prospect profiles in the weeks leading up to the Draft. I’m going to try to do one a week, so that gives us two more before the Draft starts on April 28th. Prospects will be graded on Size, Athleticism, Positional Skills, and Intangibles on a scale of A+ to F-. Comment here or tweet @jordanpintoUWF or @WeAreTheUN if there’s a prospect you’d like to see profiled. Let’s kick it off with my main man Karl Joseph.
Karl Joseph is a defensive back from West Virginia University who was considered by many to be the best safety in the country before a fluke knee injury prematurely ended his season. Nonetheless, his body of work over three and a half seasons as a starter in West Virginia’s secondary has him graded as a potential 1st round draft pick in April. He’s probably my favorite player in the Draft so just bear with me as I try to be objective.
I almost feel bad giving him a B right off gate here, but it seems like the prototype for NFL safeties these days is basically a small linebacker and Karl only goes about 5’10 200. However, what he lacks in size he more than makes up for in ferocity and explosiveness. More on that later. Let’s just say that even though he’s on the smaller side, I don’t foresee it being an issue.
As overemphasized as I think measurable sometimes are, it’s still nice to be able to put a tangible number on how fast or explosive a guy is. However, because Joseph wasn’t able to participate in either the Combine or WVU’s Pro Day this is the hardest aspect of his game to gauge. We’re forced to evaluate him using only the eye test. The good news is that he passes that with flying colors.
Joseph in person looks like a heat-seeking missile. I don’t know what he would’ve run, but I guarantee that he plays at least a full tenth of a second faster, and his closing speed is as impressive coming up in run support as it is going sideline to sideline. He also shows great explosion when running through would-be tacklees, playing much bigger than his 5’10 frame would suggest.
Coverage skills: B+
By far the most improved aspect of Karl’s game over his 4 years in the program, and a testament to his work ethic. The ball skills and playmaking have been there right from his first spring game at West Virginia, but early on he didn’t always have the best positioning. However, he’s gotten progressively better at reading the game, culminating this year with 5 interceptions through the first 4 games before getting injured. Now sure, 3 of those were against Georgia Southern in the season, but he also had 1 pick each against Maryland and Oklahoma so he was doing against real competition as well.
It’s all about the body of work with Joseph. He’s shown time and again he has the range and ball skills to play as a single high safety..
And the feet to lock up man..
Combine this with the next section and you have a very nice 2-way player.
Run Support: A+
Are you serious? Just look at this:
That first one was on Samaje Perine, who only outweighs Karl by about 35 pounds. I also feel the need to point out that he’s getting blocked as he makes the hit. Nbd.
As good as Joseph’s production was, this is where he really shines. He was a 4-year starter, a 2-year captain, and made 42 straight starts as the unquestioned heart and soul of the West Virginia defense. Joseph has a knack for making a big play or delivering a tone-setting hit right when the team needs it most. Most importantly though, you never hear a word about him off of the field, which is an exceedingly rare quality in the social media era. Joseph simply shows up to work, does work, and then retires to his quarters, where I imagine him sat in a high-backed chair reading a newspaper in front of a merrily crackling fire. He’s absolutely the kind of guy you want on your team.
I’m basing this on my quickly thrown together scoring matrix.
And on down to 0. You get the idea. Joseph’s ratings average out to a 4.38/5, which is pretty damn solid. I don’t think that anybody who watched or played against him over the last 4 seasons would have too big of a gripe about that either, so I think I did a decent job of staying objective. Simply put, Joseph is an All-Timer at West Virginia, definitely the best safety I’ve seen in my 20+ years of following the program. He progressed every single year and performed at a consistently excellent level, and I feel confident that whichever team ends up drafting him is getting a hell of a player. Which brings us to…
How high is too high?
Obviously, anytime you’re talking about a player coming off an injury there’s a risk factor involved that can’t be overlooked. It’s a shame about knee injuries that you can start and play 42 straight games with reckless abandon, then one fluke later you have an injury history that can’t be overlooked. Joseph was a 1st round lock before the injury; now people seem to think he might fall out.
However, I think the recent advances in knee surgery recovery times mean that Joseph might not fall as far as expected. What used to be a 12-18 month process now takes closer to 10-12 months, and Joseph has already been running, putting him on schedule to be back well before the season starts. Teams will still have to get passed the mental block of using a first round pick on an injured player, but there are a couple recent examples where taking that risk bore fruit.
Let’s look at the case of Todd Gurley, in particular. Gurley injured himself early in the season, same as Joseph. His surgery was performed by Dr. James Andrews, same as Joseph. And his rehab was overseen by Andrews and his staff, same as Joseph. Gurley was picked 10th overall last year on the way to becoming the Offensive Rookie of the Year. While I obviously don’t think Karl should go that high, I think that teams can look at Gurley as a very recent example that isolated knee injuries aren’t as big of a red flag as they used to be.
I think every team with a need in the bottom third of the first round has to have Joseph on their radar. Pittsburgh at 25 would be a homerific pipe dream, but doesn’t feel like too much of a reach, and even if it is, I think all Steelers fans would agree that our secondary misplayed enough passes last year to justify it. I’m looking right at you, Mr. I’d-rather-decapitate-someone-than-intercept-a-pass Mike Mitchell.
Arizona a few spots later would sit just fine with me, as would the Panthers at 30.
Worst case scenario would obviously be for Joseph to fall out of the 1st round and get scooped up by the Ravens at 36. If that happens I’ll probably have to take a gasoline shower and walk into a blast furnace, so fingers crossed that it doesn’t.
The theme here is that despite his injury, Joseph is a bona-fide first round talent/person. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him come off the board as early as 20 or as late as 50.