Draft Lions Kerby Joseph: Safety knows how to follow the ball, thanks to the relay of the receiver
2022 NFL Draft follow-up: Live blog and pick-by-pick analysis
General manager Brad Holmes might caution against trading absolutes in the draft, but it looked like the Lions needed to come out of this weekend with a safety capable of making an impact in 2022. They passed on a few more possibilities. early, in favor of Jameson Williams and Josh Pascal. At No. 97, however, the Lions nabbed Illinois prospect Kerby Joseph, a second-team All-Big Ten winner last season.
Joseph (6-1, 203) was a Senior Bowl participant, had an official visit with Detroit at the combine and also visited Allen Park on a top-30 visit. So there was a clear interest from the Lions side. “I felt like I had a sense of family when I was in that room,” Joseph said of meeting the combine. “Everyone in there connected with me.”
Joseph actually became a catcher for the 2020 season at Illinois, before returning to safety at the end of that year. He started 13 games for the Illini in 2022, with seven pass breakups and five best team picks.
Provisional notes: Sheil Kapadia weighs in on the choices
Big board best available: Who is left of Dane Brugler’s Top 300?
Classification of the large painting: Joseph was ranked No. 103 overall on Dane Brugler’s board. He was the eighth-ranked safety — just below Maryland’s Nick Cross, who the Colts traded to select a spot ahead of the Lions.
Introduction: Rapid recognition report of the Brugler guide project …
With his above average game speed, reach and ball skills, Joseph is reliable as the last line of defense with his ability to patrol hash marks outside of the numbers. He credits his quick reaction to his volleyball background and rolls the ball past him, although he has room to clean up his tackling consistency. Overall, Joseph needs to improve his playing strength, but he reads well in depth and follows the football with his speed and burst to close. He projects himself as a special team and NFL developmental starter perfectly suited to a Cover-3 program.
How it fits: The receiver’s background – however brief – adds to the intrigue with Joseph. He definitely showed ball-following ability at the back last season, and it’s perhaps no coincidence that it really showed after his foray into attack.
“Ball skills (have) always been with me,” Joseph said. “Those are just natural talents that I have. Receiver also helped me know what offenses are looking for, where the holes are – concepts and stuff like that.
FS Kerby Joseph (#25) is a fun watch. He’s a late bloomer – he broke in his final year, still 21 – but he has legitimate range and ball skills (he was moved to WR before returning to safety) pic.twitter.com/Rpvp8fxw3K
— Ted Nguyen (@FB_FilmAnalysis) April 25, 2022
Two ways that work for the Lions: 1) Apart from Amani Oruwariye, the secondary again struggled to force turnovers last season and Joseph looks like he has a knack for playing football; 2) His profile is a free safety, which means he can cover the top while Tracy Walker plays games and DeShon Elliott works in the box – if that’s the roster. He would also make sense in the Lions’ shared security looks.
Second guess? Two linebackers went quickly after Joseph’s pick — Channing Tindall at the Dolphins and Leo Chenal at the Chiefs. Either (especially Chenal) would have looked good at the Lions’ second tier. North Carolina QB Sam Howell also remained on the board until the third inning.
Rookie Impact: If the leap Joseph made last season is legit, he should have every chance of being on the court in the Lions’ frequent three-way safety looks. Obstacles in the way right now include ex-Ram JuJu Hughes, Will Harris, CJ Moore and Brady Breeze. The Lions better keep Harris at cornerback, where he held his own last year, and no one else really jumps off the page.
This deep safety point is essential in every defense, but a lot can land there when defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn sparks media coverage with a flash call. Joseph has enough range to obliterate shots above.
Impact of the depth map: Beyond the safe depth chart, Joseph should also get a chance to work on kick and clearance coverage units, perhaps as a gunner with the latter. Per Brugler, he had 407 special teams snaps and 16 tackles with Illinois, and he scored the first points of the 2021 college football season when he netted a safety against Nebraska.
The pick will put pressure on the safeties in place – Moore and Breeze were likely slated for heavy special teams roles, so Joseph could eat away at their time.
Quick assessment: Joseph will have to earn his place in the mix – Glenn puts a ton on his safeties, both before and during play. But the way this positional group came together with the re-signing of Walker, the addition of ‘Elliott and now Joseph’s pick, it definitely looks like the Lions have a top three to match.
(Photo: Michael Hickey/Getty Images)