As it turns out, the severity of Karl Joseph's knee injury didn't outweigh his three years of dominance at the safety position at West Virginia. The Oakland Raiders drafted Joseph in the first round with the No. 14 pick, despite the fact he may miss the first six weeks of the upcoming season.
Heading into his senior campaign, Joseph was projected to be one of the top picks on the board this spring. The 5'11, 197-pound safety started all 13 games as a junior, recording 92 tackles and one interception. He carried that stellar performance over to the start of his senior season, as he led the nation with five interceptions in four contests before tearing his ACL in a non-contact drill during practice in early October.
"This has been difficult for me and my family but I know I will come through this stronger than ever," Joseph said in a statement at the time, via the MetroNews. "I will forever be a Mountaineer and will be cheering on our team every step of the way."
In my 21 years of football - #8 has been the best leader and player that I've ever had the privilege of coaching.— Tony Gibson (@TonyGibsonWVU) October 7, 2015
Joseph was pegged for superstardom from the moment he stepped onto campus in Morgantown. He was named a starting safety as a freshman and recorded 104 tackles, two interceptions and one sack. He earned freshman All-American honors that year, and his stature only grew further from there.
Throughout his career as a Mountaineer, Joseph racked up 208 solo tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, nine interceptions and eight forced fumbles. He was a first-team All-Big 12 player in 2014 and a second-team All-American in 2015, despite only playing in four games.
Those accolades are impressive on their own, but even more so if you put them in context. During Joseph's freshman season, West Virginia gave up a staggering 6.25 yards per play, 106th in the nation. But they improved each season, moving up to 92nd in 2013 and then 53rd in 2014. The Mountaineers never experienced much postseason success with Joseph, however, losing the Pinstripe Bowl in 2012 and Liberty Bowl in 2014. They were victorious in the Cactus Bowl last year, but Joseph didn't play -- obviously.
On the field, Joseph's biggest strengths are his high football IQ and exceptional playmaking ability. He has a nose for the football and is involved in almost every play, as evidenced by the fact he averaged nearly 85 tackles per season during his freshman, sophomore and junior campaigns.
#WVU star safety Karl Joseph with the "clean" monster hit to break up the deep ball. Click media. It's worth it. https://t.co/yEUCyQDvJG— Rob Rang (@RobRang) October 3, 2015
Despite being unable to work out in front of NFL scouts this offseason, Joseph, who's never lacked confidence, says he still considers himself to be the best player on the board.
"I do think I'm the best football player in this draft, not just defense. The film don't lie. I have plenty of film that speaks for itself," Joseph said earlier this month in an interview.
Though Joseph's knee injury may force him to be placed on a preseason injury reserve list, the Raiders would gladly exchange six games for five seasons. Given Joseph's dominance in college, there's little reason to think he won't find success in the pros.
The Raiders have made significant investments on the defensive side of the ball in free agency, adding Bruce Irvin, Sean Smith and Reggie Nelson to the fold in the offseason. With a lot of young talent like Derek Carr, Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper, the Raiders have attempted to fill the rest of the roster with veteran players, leaving the luxury to allow a talented player like Joseph to earn his way into the secondary as he recovers from injury.
* * *