Karl Joseph: Season Breakdown

Karl Joseph

Year in Review…

The Oakland Raiders selected safety Karl Joseph with the 14th pick in the first round of the 2016 NFL draft. At the time, the safety from West Virgina was compared former NFL safety Bob Sanders’. Both were considered undersized defenders who played with reckless abandon for their bodies. Many questioned if Joseph’s smaller frame could withstand his style of physical play.

Joseph missed four games in his rookie season, and  missed just one last year. Pro Football Focus rated Joseph as an above average player (80.8) and ranked him as the #35 best safety in the NFL through his 2017 campaign. Karl Joseph has not yet lived up to the first round expectations, but he has been a serviceable starter with tremendous potential headed into his third year as a pro.


Fearlessness is Joseph’s greatest asset. Despite his size, the young safety plays with impressive aggression and never shies away from contact. The 5’ 10’’ defender excels in the box. There are countless examples of the second year defender stuffing running backs near the line of scrimmage. At times, Joseph can resemble a linebacker by the way he fills his gap assignment.

It’s rare to see KJ get run over by ball carriers; often delivering contact with full momentum. The former first round pick plays recklessly which can be a concern with his smaller frame, but he is good at hitting the ball carrier low enough to avoid absorbing the full brunt of these collisions.

Joseph is a good tackler but he is not immune to mistakes. Most of his missed tackles stem from leaving his feet and lunging at the ball carrier. Though this can result in an impressive hit, there are still too many examples of #42 diving and missing his target. Despite his whiffs on the season, this safety’s greatest attribute is clearly playing in the box and making his presence known against the run.


Joseph enjoys laying the wood against opposing players. KJ is a high motor player who welcomes explosive collisions against ball carriers. When opposing blockers do reach Joseph, he’s prone to lose those battles. Karl absorbed many big blocks from offensive linemen throughout 2017, and physical receivers/tight ends are able to keep Joseph out of the play.

Pass Defense:

Karl Joseph played fairly evenly between in the box and deep coverage. He is strong in the box against the run, but Joseph’s lack of size becomes apparent when matching up against bigger more physical tight ends.

He is not natural in man coverage. When matched up against tight ends #42 seems to focus all of his attention on trying to keep up with his assigned pass catcher, and is inconsistent at finding the ball when tested.

Joseph has had a hard time in zone coverage as well.  At times he struggles to dissect the development of routes and is thereby late at reacting to certain route progressions.

When playing deep center-field he has the speed to keep receivers from getting over the top of the defense. Karl is not a ball-hawk, but is capable of defending passes when he is able to turn and find the ball.

It’s quite Joseph will never be an impact player in the passing game, totaling just 2 interceptions in his first 27 games active as a pro.


The two-year pro has made a name for himself as a hard hitting safety that flies around the field looking for contact. Karl Joseph is a fearless player who never hesitates before a huge collision. But, due to his smaller build, opposing blockers are able to get hands on the safety and bully him around.

Joseph is best against the run as a box-safety with the ability to stuff the run at or near the line of scrimmage. He punishes ball carriers with low hits and good form. However, in 2017, Joseph missed too many tackles with his propensity for diving at the ball barrier. Going forward, he could do a better job of breaking down before contact in the open field in order to avoid so many misses.

In the passing game, Joseph had one interception and four passes defended in 2017. Man coverage is the weakest part of Joseph’s game. KJ does not match up well with tight ends due to his smaller frame. He appears as ifhe is just trying to keep up when in man coverage and struggles to find the ball when thrown his direction down field.

Joseph is more effective as an over-the-top defender, preventing receivers from getting behind him. He plays it safe in zone coverage, and can struggle at dissecting route progressions as they unfold.


Overall, Karl Joseph is a high motor player that provides fans with highlight hits and makes his presence most known in the running game. He is still raw against the pass, mostly just due to being out-sized by most tight ends. KJ has more room to grow before he can justify his first round draft status. The third year is typically key in an NFL players development, so Raider Nation can only hope this is the year Karl Joseph arrives as a true play-maker.

Written By: Chase Bugas @RaidersUnsung