In his first offseason as the general manager of the Cleveland Browns, Andrew Berry has made waves. For example, while big named players like offensive tackle Jack Conklin and tight end Austin Hooper made the bigger splashes, a one-year deal with former 2016 NFL Draft first-round safety Karl Joseph may pay dividends beyond 2020. Here we take a look at the new safety of the Cleveland Browns, diving deep into his 2019 tape.
Get to know Karl Joseph
From the first-round pick to a fall from grace
After a career with the West Virginia Mountaineers where Joseph racked up over 200 solo tackles, 16 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, seven sacks, and nine interceptions, he heard his name called by the Oakland Raiders with the 14th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. However, despite his status as a former first-rounder, Joseph fell out of grace in Oakland, especially after the hire of head coach Jon Gruden.
Despite tallying over 100 solo tackles, two interceptions, 10 passes defended, and three tackles for loss over his first two seasons with the Raiders, Joseph and Gruden never found their groove. Even before the 2019 season, the Raiders opted not to pick up Joseph’s fifth-year option and made no offers to re-sign him in the 2020 offseason.
Injuries did not help Joseph’s case in Oakland
Joseph somehow managed to land in the first round despite playing only four games as a senior with the Mountaineers. His season-ending injury forced Joseph to miss the NFL Scouting Combine, giving him an incomplete athletic testing profile as well.
Over the first four years of his career, Joseph has missed 15 games, including seven in 2019, after starting the first nine games of the season with a foot injury. This injury has lingered as he has remained limited as training camp has begun for the Browns.
Joseph was often miscast with the Raiders
Despite being known as a box safety, meaning he has the physical play strength to battle in the trenches with the linebackers and interior linemen, Joseph was often stuck in as a deep safety. In multiple instances in 2019, Joseph could be found 20 yards off the line of scrimmage on first downs, counteracting his strengths on the field.
While Joseph has the versatility to play and can cover ground in Cover-3 or Cover-2, playing in a single-high situation in Cover-1 is not his typical usage. However, far too often, the Raiders asked Joseph to do just that; his play was bound to suffer under these circumstances.
Strengths of Karl Joseph game as he heads to Cleveland in 2020
While Joseph was a bit of an outcast under Gruden and will need a fresh start with the Browns, he shows plenty of bright spots on his tape that will translate to Cleveland under Joe Woods. Here we will take a look at these traits that give Joseph the potential to not only rebound in 2020 but to stick around in Cleveland long term – potentially.
Joseph, an elite open-field tackler
A heat-seeking missile downhill, nobody will ever discredit Joseph’s ability to tackle the opposing ball carrier, especially in the open field. In the video below, Joseph squares his shoulders up, breaks down in space, and performs a perfect form tackle on Minnesota Vikings’ Pro Bowl running back Dalvin Cook.
Joseph excels at stacking the box and fulfilling his run fits
Sure, Joseph will still be asked to play at the third level of the Browns’ defense under Woods in 2020 (as he does in the video above), but he will also have plenty of opportunities to stack the box as well. Setting the edge, Joseph excels at squeezing gaps and making plays in the backfield.
In this particular fit, Joseph is tasked with setting the edge of the defense as the Indianapolis Colts are threatening at the goal line. A textbook fit, Joseph shows the ability to come right off the hip of the defensive end to squeeze the gap, meeting Colts’ running back Marlon Mack in the backfield and being a sure-tackler, making the play.
Joseph capable in zone coverage as well
Just because single-high looks do not suit Joseph well does not mean he is incapable of zone coverage, just asking him to take on the entire field over the top of the defense. When playing in Cover-2 or Cover-3 (meaning two defensive backs and three defensive backs respectively play deep in zone coverage), however, Joseph shows fluidity to turn and run in coverage and cover the necessary ground to break up the play.
Here, Joseph is in Cover-2 and tasked with half of the field for the Raiders. As Colts’ quarterback Jacoby Brissett scans the area, he fires a shot deep down the seam to wide receiver Parris Campbell. Joseph can turn and open his hips and track with Campbell, who ran a 4.31 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, down the field.
Looking at projection of Joseph with Browns
Joseph a better fit in Cleveland than Oakland
Given the priority Berry made at safety this offseason, Joseph was just one of three added this offseason at the position. Additionally, veteran free safety Andrew Sendejo signed a one-year deal, and LSU standout Grant Delpit was drafted in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Sheldrick Redwine, a fourth-rounder from the 2019 NFL Draft, is still on the roster from the John Dorsey era as well.
While he will still be asked to play in zone coverage, even over the top as every safety is asked to do, the Browns and new defensive coordinator will likely deploy their heat-seeking missile in Joseph. These looks include in the box, underneath, and from sideline-to-sideline under Woods.
The Browns will not need Joseph to work in any single-high situations or play in any out-of-position roles this season. On paper, Joseph looks like a great fit at strong safety next to Delpit and Sendejo, and given his age; he has the potential to hang around well beyond 2020.