Oakland Raiders: Bruce Irvin Gets His Wish, Raiders Draft Karl Joseph

Sep 5, 2015; Morgantown, WV, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers safety Karl Joseph stands in the secondary during the fourth quarter against the Georgia Southern Eagles at Milan Puskar Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 5, 2015; Morgantown, WV, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers safety Karl Joseph stands in the secondary during the fourth quarter against the Georgia Southern Eagles at Milan Puskar Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports /

The Oakland Raiders threw fans a bit of a curveball by selecting West Virginia safety Karl Joseph with the fourteenth overall pick.

Are the Oakland Raiders paying free agent acquisition Bruce Irvin to work in the front office as well as terrorize quarterbacks on the field? Ever since Irvin signed his deal with the Raiders, he went straight to work, trying to recruit additional free agents. Not only that, in the run-up to this year’s NFL Draft, Irvin made his pitch to Raiders brass to snatch a fellow West Virginia alum with the fourteenth overall pick. It appears that Oakland’s brass was listening as they used their first round pick to nab hard hitting safety Karl Joseph.

It’s a selection that caught some folks by surprise and has others calling it a reach. Others are quick to note that Joseph, like UCLA linebacker Myles Jack – the favored pick of many Raider fans – has some injury concerns of his own. Four games into his senior season at West Virginia, Joseph sustained a torn ACL during a non-contact practice drill.

Where Joseph differs from Jack on the injury front – and it’s a distinction fans should note – is that Joseph is expected to be back at one hundred percent by the time training camp opens without any lingering concerns. Jack on the other hand, has the specter of a potential microfracture surgery hanging over his head. The possibility of needing microfracture surgery before his rookie contract is even up is something that Jack admitted to earlier in the day and is very likely the reason the former top ten talent has now slid out of the first round of the draft.

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As for Joseph, the Raiders are getting a physical, hard hitting safety. And although the big hits are the thing that defines Joseph in the eyes of many, he is quite a bit more than that. He’s a versatile defender, able to provide fantastic man coverage, but is also able to play centerfield which will take away the long ball. More than that, Joseph is able to step into the box and is downright explosive at the point of attack.

Joseph has the speed to stay with receivers and the ferociousness to be a potent run defender as well. Over his time at West Virginia, Joseph racked up 274 tackles – 16 for a loss – and nine interceptions. NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein compared him to Antoine Bethea.

Take a look at some of Joseph’s highlights:

If there is one knock against Joseph, it’s his frame, which isn’t ideal for the position. At 5’10”, 205 lbs. He’s considered small for the position. However, he plays much larger than his frame. Add to that, his leadership ability and solid locker room presence, and you can start to understand why McKenzie and Del Rio are so high on him.

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Adding Joseph fills a big need for the Raiders. With the retirement of Charles Woodson, the Raiders were left with a void in their defensive backfield. By selecting Joseph, they have their long term solution. Joseph isn’t expected to step into the role on day one, and can spend a year learning from Reggie Nelson, Nate Allen, and Rod Woodson – which will benefit him enormously.

NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah recently called Joseph a “poor man’s Earl Thomas.” Which is something of a backhanded compliment, but the comparison is somewhat apt. With the Raiders loosely basing their defensive blueprint on Seattle’s, adding an Earl Thomas-type player – somebody DC Ken Norton Jr. is very familiar with – they couldn’t have done better.

In an ideal world, McKenzie and the Raiders would have traded back, accumulated a couple more picks to bolster the draft class, and still landed Joseph. But the fact that the Atlanta Falcons used the seventeenth overall pick on safety Keanu Neal shows that had McKenzie not pulled the trigger, they could have been watching Joseph in a Falcons jersey for some years to come.

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McKenzie and Del Rio are continuing their revamping of a secondary that ranked twenty-sixth in passing yards allowed last season. With the addition of Sean Smith and Reggie Nelson to go along with David Amerson, Travis Carrie, and now Joseph, Oakland’s defensive backfield is going to be fierce, is full of playmakers, and is going to do a far better job of shutting down opposing passing offenses.

The pick wasn’t entirely expected and caught some folks off guard, but it was a very shrewd pick that is going to pay big dividends for the Raiders for years to come.