MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Karl Joseph has devotees inside the West Virginia football offices, coaches who watched him fly through 42 games stealing the breath from opponents.
Now Joseph’s legions outside the program are growing, and they’re doing so on the verge of the NFL draft, where he figures to be a second-round pick. Perhaps even higher.
“Every year I get a couple guys I love,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said Wednesday. “They aren’t necessarily first-round picks, (but this year) it’s Karl Joseph from West Virginia. When I put the tape in I started laughing, I said this is my guy. His range, his game against Oklahoma was awesome.”
That Oklahoma film is especially telling, and not merely because it contained Joseph’s final college game. During his remarkable, abbreviated senior season Joseph took advantage of some unremarkable passing attacks. Maryland finished 126th in team passing efficiency, next-to-last in the FBS, and Georgia Southern ranked one spot lower. Joseph made a combined four interceptions against them.
But Oklahoma’s passing attack was legit, ranking No. 4 nationally with Baker Mayfield flinging passes all over the yard, scripted and otherwise. Though West Virginia’s defense struggled as a unit that afternoon in Norman, Joseph stood out individually with an interception, a pass breakup and a sack among his five tackles.
It marked the paradox of his time at West Virginia—a terrific player on some far-from-terrific defenses. Now scouts must trust that he can be terrific in the NFL, despite measuring only 5-foot-9 with a half-inch on top.
That puts Joseph well under the norm. Of the 68 safeties selected in the past four drafts, only nine were shorter than 5-11. And as noted in the list below, only one safety taken in the top three rounds since 2012 was so short as Joseph. That safety is former Florida All-American Matt Elam, whose performance tailed off after a stellar rookie season with the Ravens.
If Joseph gets docked for his height, it’s only fair he gets a bump for having longer-than-average arms that make him a reliable tackler in space. Beyond the measurables, Mayock sees three-plus years of jarring hits, improving coverage skills and a player hungrily committed to the game.
“I firmly believe this kid’s going to be a big-time player,” he said.
As Joseph told me at the April 4 pro day: “Once you’re on the field you have to prove you’re better than me, and I don’t think too many people do that.”
Safeties drafted in the first three rounds (with heights):
1st Rd — Damarious Randall (Arizona State) 5-11
2nd Rd — Landon Collins (Alabama) 6-0
2nd Rd — Jaquiski Tartt (Samford) 6-1
2nd Rd — Jordan Richards (Stanford) 5-11
1st Rd — Calvin Pryor (Louisville) 5-11 1/8
1st Rd — Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix (Alabama) 6-1 3/8
1st Rd — Deone Bucannon (Washington State) 6-1
1st Rd — Jimmie Ward (Northern Illinois) 5-10 5/8
3rd Rd — Des Southward (Wisconsin) 6-0
3rd Rd — Terrence Brooks (Florida State) 5-10 7/8
1st Rd — Kenny Vaccaro (Texas) 6-0
1st Rd — Eric Reid (LSU) 6-1 1/4
1st Rd — Matt Elam (Florida) 5-9 1/2
2nd Rd — Johnathan Cypien (FIU) 6-0
2nd Rd — D.J. Swearinger (South Carolina) 5-10 1/2
3rd Rd — T.J. McDonald (USC) 6-2 1/2
3rd Rd — J.J. Wilcox (Ga. Southern) 6-0
3rd Rd — Shawn Williams (Georgia) 5-11 3/4
3rd Rd — Duron Harrison (Rutgers) 6-0
1st Rd — Mark Barron (Alabama) 6-1
1st Rd — Harrison Smith (Notre Dame) 6-2
2nd Rd —Tavon Wilson (Illinois) 6-0
3rd Rd — Brandon Taylor (LSU) 5-11 1/8
3rd Rd — Brandon Hardin (Oregon State) 6-2 5/8