Karl Joseph living up to first-round billing with early impact for Raiders

Karl Joseph living up to first-round billing with early impact for Raiders

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Raiders safety Karl Joseph notched his first career forced fumble in Week 2’s blowout victory over the New York Jets. It came on his first sack, where he bent around a tackle into the pocket and devoured his pray.

Joseph recovered the ball, and the Raiders quickly scored a touchdown. The second-year pro enjoyed that moment, but left the game with regrets.

"I should have definitely had more sacks than I did,” Joseph said. “I feel like I should have had three.”

Joseph had quarterback Josh McCown in the crosshairs three times, and feels like he should’ve finished each one. The game plan provided opportunity. Joseph blitzed six times – fellow safety Reggie Nelson attacked thrice – and pressured the quarterback four times.

It was a relatively new responsibility, considering he blitzed nine times all last year. Joseph will be first to say he was a different player then. He was less explosive, more tentative and a smidge less confident, lingering effects from an ACL tear during his final college season. Joseph was cleared to play as a rookie but wasn’t all the way back, doubly hampered by missing an offseason program where rookies grow quick.

"I wasn’t completely myself,” Joseph said in an exclusive interview with NBC Sports California. “I feel a lot more like myself this year. I obviously feel better physically, and the year of experience in the system has definitely helped. So has adjusting to the NFL life. That’s been an easier transition for me.”

Joseph is playing more like his highlight reel from West Virginia, where he proved a heavy hitter and a solid cover man worthy of last year’s No. 14 overall draft pick. The Jets game isn’t the only evidence of that.

Joseph had an excellent training camp, flashing an aggressive style and solid timing making plays in practice. That translated to the regular-season opener at Tennessee, when he saved a touchdown on consecutive plays. The first came on an open-field tackle. The second was a leaping pass breakup in the end zone, proof positive that Joseph was ready to make a big impact.

"He’s really good close to the line of scrimmage,” defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said. "He’s a really good tackler in the open field. He also plays well on the back end. I think his development is right on time right now.”

The Raiders recognize that, and are using him like a queen on the chessboard. He can move back or forward, as an attacker or the last line of defense. He’s a rover at times, with an ability to create havoc at all levels of the defense.

Joseph is an excellent fit for the defensive scheme, bring a tone-setting physicality to the secondary. He is learning, as part of his development, that the nuclear option isn’t always best. There are times when it is, and Joseph enters those scenarios without fear.

"You can’t play worried about getting hurt. That’s not the way I play,” Joseph said. “It’s about being smart. I had to adjust my game coming into the NFL. Every hit can’t be a big hit. Sometimes you have to be smart and just wrap people up, but you can’t ever play scared.”

He isn’t afraid to take risks or attack when asked, and is already making a major impact on this year’s defense. That isn’t a surprise. It’s expected of first-round picks.

"That’s what he’s supposed to do. He’s supposed to make plays,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “He’s a guy we selected because we thought he’d be a guy that could come in and impact on our defense. In the first two games of this year he’s played well. There are still things, like I tell you all the time, that have cleaning up to do, work to do, things to improve on, but he’s off to a good start and obviously it follows up from a good offseason. Healthy, a lot of good work and confidence that he’s gaining as we go.”

Raiders must be ready for several first-round draft scenarios


Raiders must be ready for several first-round draft scenarios

Mock drafts can be silly. Mapping outcomes is inherently futile in an enterprise with so many variables. Case in point: It takes just one trade to outdate every mock draft out there.

Yet, we do them because they’re fun. They spark conversation about your favorite sport, even without a game set until September.

They do have some practical use. NFL teams typically do quite a few, in fact, as they prep for different scenarios when they’re on the clock.

NFL Network's Mike Silver said Thursday that the Raiders didn't do that heading into this NFL draft, with runs Thursday-Saturday. Per Silver, head coach Jon Gruden plans to conduct things in "real time." The Raiders have the No. 10 overall pick, and 10 more selections after that.

Thursday’s focus hones on the first round, where the Raiders need to find an impact player with a high draft slot. They would love an early quarterback run, with pushes top-end players toward them on the draft board. Having one of the top four passers on the board could increase their trade value.

They still have an idea of how much they’d want in return for a trade down the draft board. They certainly have a range for how much they’d sacrifice to trade up for edge rusher Bradley Chubb, which The Athletic reported as a possibility.

Here’s a few things we know, per sources, that could impact the Raiders first-round decisions:

They like Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith. If he's available at No. 10, expect the Raiders to take him. Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick intrigues them, as well as some other quality defenders possibly available at No. 10.

“There’s going to be five or six defensive players available there that are big time, game-changing defensive players,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said. “So I don't care whether you're talking about one of the two safeties (Fitzpatrick or Florida State’s Derwin James), (Ohio State cornerback) Denzel Ward, one of the two inside linebackers, (Washington defensive tackle) Vita Vea. One or two or three of those guys is going to be there for them, and I think they can take that in any direction. And I think Jon Gruden’s a very aggressive guy, and he wants to get this thing fixed quickly in his mind. They have selections at 10, 41, and 75. Whatever they do at 10 will trigger the direction they head in the next two rounds.”

There’s significant focus on the Raiders shoring up their defense, but they’ve done research on offensive tackles. That includes Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey, who could be a selection at No. 10 or just below should they trade out. Whether or not they get him, the offensive line should be a focus at some point in the draft.

A trade down would offer more picks for a team with serious needs, or provide assets to help trade up in later rounds. It could put McGlinchey in a more favorable draft spot. The Raiders have met with edge rusher Marcus Davenport, another intriguing prospect outside the typical cluster linked with the Raiders.

Several scenarios could play out in this Raiders draft, including one nobody has mentioned to this point. The NFL draft’s one certainty is its unpredictability. The Raiders have mapped out as many scenarios as possible, and have several contingency plans based on what goes down Thursday night with a pivotal selection in a pivotal draft.

Raiders draft dynamic changes with Gruden in the fray


Raiders draft dynamic changes with Gruden in the fray

Reggie McKenzie has run the last six Raiders drafts. The general manager takes input from several, but was ultimately charged with making picks.

Things are different with Jon Gruden back in silver and black. He brings a new, louder voice in the room influencing roster construction.

That brings a different dynamic to the 2018 NFL draft, which starts Thursday evening and continues through Saturday. The Raiders have 11 picks. Gruden will have final say in who gets taken.

Gruden’s 10-year, $100 million contract suggested as much. Raiders owner Mark Davis made that plain in a conversation at the NFL owners meetings, saying that McKenzie’s role will be different moving forward.

“Now he has a head coach who’s going to be running this thing for the next 10 years,” Davis said. “His vision is going to be most important building what type of team we’ve got. That vision, and that direction is going to be helpful to Reggie more so than not. I think they’ll work together very well.”

McKenzie and Gruden’s working relationship has been a topic for months, and both parties have emphasized how well they vibe.

Believe them when they say roster construction is a collaborative effort. Believe them when they say have similar taste in players. Also know that, when/if there’s disagreement, Gruden’s going to have final say.

Gruden has immersed himself in draft prep (among so many other things on his plate), but is also reliant on the work McKenzie and his staff have done scouting this draft class over the last year.

“I’m really proud of the job he’s done, the coaches have done,” Gruden said. “The scouts and coaches have met together and collaborated. We’ll be prepared, and we’ll see how the board falls as Reggie always says.”

McKenzie says the draft board tells him where to go when on the clock. Will that change with Gruden’s influence in the room?

“The board will still be doing the talking,” McKenzie said. “It really will.”

Gruden has had influence on the draft board and the scenarios they’ve mapped leading into this crucial stretch of the NFL calendar. McKenzie has to help find players who fit new schemes. He’s listening to new people in the room, but says the transition has come without conflict.

“It’s going great,” he said. “I've got a feel for Coach Gruden. We like the same type of players. All this coaching staff and scouts, we’re just trying to get on the same page and get it together. That’s what we’re doing.”

McKenzie and Gruden have worked together well despite disparate personalities. The GM’s laid back, always easy going. Gruden’s got energy to spare. They both share a passion for the sport, and understand the importance getting this draft right.

“He’s a bowling ball of butcher knives. (laughter) He’s great,” McKenzie said. “I love the fire, I love the enthusiasm. We can talk football all day and watch film. I mean, it’s been really good. I’m excited to watch him on the grass and get out there and watch practice. It’s fun. That’s what I expected. He’s going to make it fun and not just for his players and coaches but it’s fun being around him and I like that.”