The old adage that defense wins championships may or may not be true, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a title-winning team that didn’t build heavily through the draft. Rookie classes, naturally, are evaluated on the perceived upside of the NFL newcomers, but which rookies are ready to contribute right out of the gate? And, how do they fit in with their new team schematically?
To help us forecast the immediate future of these NFL neophytes, we enlisted the help of draft guru Dave-Te Thomas who has served as a scouting personnel consultant to NFL teams for multiple decades.
Today, we continue PFR’s Impact Rookie series with his insight on the Oakland Raiders’ draft class:
Oakland or Las Vegas? Wherever the Raiders end up playing, both their offensive and defensive foundations are well on their way to being established, as quarterback Derek Carr and left defensive end Khalil Mack were efficient and sensational, respectively, during their second campaign in the league last year.
This is a young team on the rise, a team that returns all but three of the players who started for them in 2015. The front office opened their wallets and brought in help for the secondary, pass rush and offensive line that should see the organization increase their playoff chances. Established pass protector Kelechi Osemele left Baltimore to provide the Raiders with a drastic upgrade at the left guard spot manned by departed J’Marcus Webb (Seattle) last year. With Webb, the front wall yielded 38 sacks and saw their ground attack limp to 91.1 yards per game last season, the fifth lowest average in the league.
Even with future Hall of Fame safety Charles Woodson in charge, the defense gave up 258.3 aerial yards per game, the 25th-highest total in the NFL. They tied for 13th with just fourteen interceptions, but replace Woodson with Cincinnati’s Reggie Nelson, who tied for the league title with eight pass thefts last year, along with finishing sixth in the NFL with 22 passes defended and ranked second on the Bengals squad with 77 tackles. Nelson is also a great veteran mentor for first round safety, Karl Joseph, who should be ready to start by the season opener after an injury-marred 2015 campaign at West Virginia.
First Round – Karl Joseph, SS (West Virginia, No. 14 overall)
The team’s first-round draft pick is still working hard trying to get his surgically repaired right knee ready for the rigors of training camp. Hurt in a non-contact drill in early October, the slight-framed strong safety compensates for his lack of ideal size and bulk with tremendous force behind his hits. While those bone-rattling tackles will excite the fan base, it will also alert the refs, as Joseph’s penchant for getting too aggressive have led to the flags being thrown on a regular basis. While penalties in bunches were the norm for the Raiders in the past, the defense “wised up” last year, ranking 23rd in the league with just 104 penalties for the unit.
At the time of his injury, Joseph was leading the major college ranks with an average of 1.3 interceptions per game and paced the Big Twelve Conference with an average of 1.5 passes defended per contest. He had a career-high three interceptions vs. Georgia Southern last year, the first Mountaineer to accomplish that feat since 1994.
Joseph graduated in December with academic honors and was the team’s “valedictorian” on the gridiron, where he had started 42-of-44 games during his career. He recorded eight interceptions while deflecting twelve passes, delivering 284 tackles (209 solos) with a pair of sacks and 15.5 stops-for-loss. His hard-hitting style caused eight fumbles, which he recovered six of them.
Despite lacking great bulk, Joseph possesses good upper body thickness, large, natural hands (9 ¾-inches) and room to carry at least another ten pounds of bulk for a potential move to strong safety at the next level. He lacks blazing quickness (4.59 in the 40-yard dash), which will limit his position duties to the strong-side slot. While he has good range, there is a bit of stiffness in his hips when he attempts to transition (note-prior to his injury in 2015, Joseph was working on how to compensate for some hip stiffness with a short stride to help him open his hips quicker in transition), but he shows good ability to plant-&-drive, coming out of his breaks cleanly. He seems to play better when making plays in front of him, as he lacks the second gear to recover when trying to stay with the speedy receivers on deep routes.
Joseph is an emotional team leader who takes well to hard coaching. He has the field awareness to easily break down plays and locate the ball, doing a very good job of staying low in his pads and taking proper angles to close on and make the play. His field vision when playing in the shallow zone allows him to fill the rush lanes in an instant while breaking sharply on the ball in underneath passing situations. As a strong safety, he has shown that despite size issues, he can mirror the tight ends on underneath routes and shows good anticipation skills and awareness dropping back in the zone. Those fumbles caused are evident that he has a nose for the ball and the interception figures highlight his natural hands to make the interception.
Click here to read more about the Raiders’ rookie class..