I was delighted when, at pick 97, one of "my guys" was still on the board and was selected by our Lions. After hearing both the Rizz and Erik Schlitt talk up this guy, I watched some tape and fell in love. While I was a massive Hamilton stan, Kerby was my preferred choice if our top three picks didn't go in the direction of safety. Therefore, I set out to win you over with this breakdown of his film and show you why you should be excited about the pick.
Kerby Joseph, S, Illinois/Detroit Lions
2021: 12 games played
57 tackles (41 solo), 1 TFL, 1 sack, 5 INTs (returned for 12 yards), 2 additional PBUs, 2 FRs
Alignments: 440 deep safety, 146 box safety, 41 on the LOS, 64 slot CB, 7 outside CB
Athletic Comparison (MockDraftable): DeShon Elliot (82%)
Consensus Ranking: S7 (was 9th off the board), 93rd overall (taken 97th overall)
Games Watched: @Virginia, @Penn State, and @Iowa (all 2021)
Given he was the deep safety in a Cover 3 scheme, Joseph was usually in zone coverage on the deep third of the field. For the most part, he is solid at this, making several good plays. In one play against Virginia, he rotates down to a robber role, forcing Armstrong to look elsewhere. On another, he is covering the deep third, and his blanket coverage of the deep route leads to a coverage sack. On his final snap of the game against Virginia, Joseph recognises that his slot corner had a busted coverage and moves to cover their receiver, but is just too late to break up the pass. Against Penn State, he tracks the ball from his single high position and is there at the catch point to tackle the receiver to limit their YAC. He makes a similar play later in the game, getting into position to help clean up the tackle on the receiver. Joseph also demonstrates an ability to pass off receivers in zone during this game, as he does this with a player coming through his zone, before stepping up to cover a deep in, leading to a non-target. Joseph's football intelligence and zone instincts showed in the game against Iowa, where he reads Padilla's eyes and is on the move before the ball is thrown to the hash, and is the closest defender to the receiver as the overthrown ball sails out of bounds.
Joseph can be deployed in alignments other than deep safety. He is used in split safety looks in all three games, but especially against Penn State. In one of these looks against Virginia, he covers the intermediate mid zone and tackles the receiver for no YAC. Against Penn State, there were also two instances of Joseph lining up on the line of scrimmage before dropping into zone. On the first, he fakes a blitz before dropping back to cover the deep third. On the second, he moves directly back into single high on the snap, leading to a coverage sack.
However, there are instances where Joseph's inexperience shows. Against Virginia, his eyes are drawn in by an RPO, leaving him to vacate his zone, allowing Armstrong an easy completion for a touchdown. On another snap, he follows the wrong player in his zone, leaving the other open in the endzone for a touchdown. Likewise, against Penn State, he bites the cheese on a play-action pass, vacating his deep zone, leaving the post route open for a long touchdown.
As Joseph was largely played as a deep safety, it was rare he was in man coverage, but there were instances I spotted. Against Virginia, he is in bracket coverage but gives the receiver a cushion of around a yard. This leads to a reception, but he quickly makes a tackle to limit the YAC. On another rep, he lines up off the slot and covers the corner route well, as well as a TE flat from a split safety look near the goal line. Both of these led to no targets from Armstrong on the plays. Against Penn State, he has two good reps covering the slot in man. On the first, he moves to cover the receiver as they go in motion, staying on them and forcing Clifford to his second read (as the first is a screen to the receiver brought in motion). In the other, he again goes with the slot receiver as they were brought in motion, but on the snap he drops back and covers a seam on the opposite side of the formation, again forcing Clifford to look elsewhere. Joseph even took reps at outside corner in two of the games I watched, both on QBs lined up at receiver on wildcat plays.
Some of Joseph's best traits are his ball skills and athleticism. Both of these translate from his past as a WR. He was recruited by Illinois as a 3-star athlete out of Florida. In high school, he was a two-way athlete, playing both DB and WR. In his junior year, his only as a starter, Joseph was tied for first in the nation for interceptions, highlighting how these WR skills translated into being a ballhawk. In the Lions highlight package above, his PBU (0:43) and interception (0:25) against Virginia are shown. In the first of these, Joseph had rotated down from a split safety look into the box. Then he reads Armstrong's eyes, moves back to the post route and makes a dive, breaking up the pass at the goal line, saving an almost certain touchdown. On the interception, he is covering the slot and gives the receiver inside leverage. He then contests the catch, and rips the ball out of the receiver's hands near the end zone, turning a touchdown into an interception. However, I argue his best interception is not shown. Against Iowa, he is in a single-high look, he reads Padilla's eyes and runs to the sideline, intercepting the ball and toe-tapping before going out of bounds.
Joseph had two blitzes during the three games I watched that were of significance. The first of which was against Virginia, where he rotates down into the box and blitzes the A-gap, putting pressure on Armstrong. The other was against Iowa, where he blitzes from a split safety look on a run play, but this has little effect as the play is being run to the other side.
Joseph's run defence is perhaps the most interesting part of his game. He shows good instincts. But in the first two games, he shows little confidence in these instincts and almost waits for the runner to get to him rather than closing them down. This is most evident on the opening snap against Virginia. He is in single-high, reads the run and comes downhill a few steps, but then awaits the back before tackling around the legs. Later, in a series of back-to-back snaps, he is in a similar situation. On the first, he shows hesitancy. On the second he keeps a good angle, uses the sideline as an extra defender and makes the tackle as the last defender to save a potential touchdown. This perhaps gives him confidence as the next time he faces a similar situation, he makes a good tackle to prevent another touchdown. Later in the game, he is lined up on the line of scrimmage twice in the space of two plays. In the first instance, he lines up as a blitzer and occupies the leader blocker to allow his linebackers to make the tackle. In the second, he sets the left-hand edge but the play doesn't go in his direction.
Against Penn State, he is lined up as a slot corner on a play. After the snap, he reads the run to the other side of the field, moves and prevents a cutback inside. Later, he is in the box, fills the gap and wraps up well. When Clifford goes on a scramble in the red zone, Joseph keeps the inside angle, forcing him towards the sideline and sacking him. Against Iowa, near the start of the game, he is the deep safety but moves towards the rusher quickly and tackles them. In the same game, he reads the run to the left, uses the sideline as a defender and makes the tackle. On another run, he nearly misses the tackle but uses his long arms to trap the runner for long enough for them to be tackled. Even when outmuscled by the runner on a rep, he uses their momentum to lead them into one of their blockers, stopping the run.
He is a good edge setter, as evidenced by these three games. Against Virginia, he is lined up in the box on one rep when Armstrong goes on a boot. Joseph sets the edge, forcing him back inside. In the same game, he rotates down into the box and sets the right-hand edge before moving inside to assist the tackler. Even when he is not directly involved in the play, he still demonstrates his physicality. Against Iowa, he is close to tackling a runner but is stopped by a lead blocker. Just for fun, Joseph floors said lead blocker.
In all three games I watched, I saw multiple instances where Joseph was talking to his teammates and directing them into the right places before the snap. This speaks to his football IQ and his play recognition. The three pass defences outlined above show this, but other plays also suggested that despite his relative rawness, there is a good safety in Joseph. Against Virginia, he recognises an instance where the offence has a free play, and so moves to cover the deep routes so that Armstrong cannot exploit the opportunity. Against Iowa, he directs a teammate to line up over a gap, through which said player is then able to shoot and get a TFL. On another play against Iowa, he is not fooled by a trick play, follows Padilla and knocks him at the catch-point to force a drop. However, there were instances where his inexperience showed. Against Virginia, he was lined up in the box. His eyes were caught by an RPO, drawing him in and allowing a receiver underneath leverage on a slant for an easy completion.
Kerby Joseph, while being a one-year starter, showed great deep coverage skills, reflected by him being the highest rated DB in the nation per PFF. Despite playing mostly deep safety, he also showed flashes of good run instincts but was unable to fully act on these. This might be due to the scheme he played in, but it is more likely down to confidence. As both the games and the season went on, his run defence improved in my estimation. Joseph also offers playmaking on the backend, something this team has sorely been missing. Amani was the only player on our team last year with multiple interceptions, and most of us can agree that most of these came down to luck.
Joseph is by no means the complete package, but he has fallen in a great place for him with the chance to play under the tutelage of AG and AP, who could be described as two of the best DB coaches in the league, both with their work in Detroit and before. Not only can Joseph be like his Pokemon counterpart and absorb knowledge from these two great coaches, but he will also be able to learn from two players who are similar to him stylistically in Walker and Elliott.
In our scheme, he projects initially as a deep safety on three-safety looks, with Walker and Elliott playing closer to the line of scrimmage, or in split zones alongside Tracy with DeShon in the box. However, I believe that with some coaching on his technique and his confidence, Kerby could grow into a reliable starter alongside Tracy, and could be deployed more in the box and on the line of scrimmage. To get a potential long-term starter at one of our weaker positions in the third round of the draft is a dream come true.
What do you think of Kerby? Do you think he could become a long term starter, or is he a rotational player in your estimation?
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