ALAMEDA – Lamarcus Joyner might be the Raiders' best safety. That was probably true when everyone was healthy this summer and is hard to argue now with so many of them hurt.
The Raiders have locked Joyner in at slot cornerback since the moment he signed a four-year contract worth up to $42 million last spring. That’s Joyner’s preferred position, a spot the longtime Rams defensive back manned until Wade Phillips moved him to safety in 2017.
His return to the slot with the Raiders has gone decently, with some struggles at a level expected from someone at his pay rate. In fairness, Joyner has also dealt with a hamstring injury the second half of this season. He was also been asked to expand his role some during the middle of the year without a steady, thriving linebacker corps.
Joyner’s numbers haven’t been great. He ranks No. 21 in performance from the slot among players who predominantly or, as in Joyner’s case, work there almost exclusively. According to analytics site Pro Football Focus, he allows a reception every 7.8 coverage snaps and has given up 43 receptions for 442 yards and two touchdowns in 58 targets. The 107.1 passer rating ranks sixth worst among the 24 players with at least 201 coverage snaps from the slot this season.
Joyner hasn’t been a top tier player at his position, but head coach Jon Gruden believes he’ll be around to help get the defense going. That makes sense, considering Joyner has an $8 million fully guaranteed roster bonus coming in 2020, with a $4.6 million base salary that becomes fully guaranteed on March 22.
“We’re going to get the bang [for our buck],” Gruden said. “When you lose you safeties and your middle linebacker, it’s a big issue. We didn’t have a lot of proven depth. I’m not going to sit up here and make excuses, but Joyner’s a big part of the solution. So is Trayvon Mullen and our young corners. We were making progress for a while, but I think Joyner’s a big part of the solution even though the stat sheet might not show it right now.”
Joyner is the team’s best slot cornerback and the best safety, but Gruden never veered him away from his focused position this season. He has played just one snap at safety this season, per PFF, and never worked there during the offseason program or training camp. Gruden was asked about moving him to safety after Karl Joseph was lost for the season, but the head coach explained why he has stayed put even with talk of moving Daryl Worley inside despite his relative inexperience playing there.
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“We’ve moved everybody around quite a bit on this team this year, but Lamarcus is a valuable part of our team as the nickel, and I don’t want to break in a new nickel either,” Gruden said. “You know, rob Peter to pay Paul. Once you move your nickel, you’ve got to find a new nickel, and those guys don’t grow on trees either.”