Karl Joseph’s play will be key indicator for Cleveland Browns defense

The Cleveland Browns appear to have signed a major defensive contributor in strong safety Karl Joseph, but it’s not clear if he’ll be that just yet

At this juncture, it would seem that the Cleveland Browns signed a quality defensive piece in strong safety Karl Joseph via a team-friendly one-year deal. Though Joseph’s 2019 season with the then-Oakland Raiders (now Las Vegas Raiders) was limited to nine games due to a foot injury, he was having a solid campaign prior to that.

Joseph, who should be utilized mostly in the box by Browns defensive coordinator Joe Woods, is a thumper, which is something Cleveland needed last season after the departure of Jabrill Peppers to the New York Giants. Jermaine Whitehead was not someone that was an adequate replacement in that role, frankly, and Sheldrick Redwine has a ways to go to be viable there.

Joseph, though he is just 5-foot-10 and 200 pounds, is always willing to mix it up in the run game. Considering that and with Joseph having an 82.2 grade as an in-the-box safety last season by Pro Football Focus (per h/t Sports Illustrated’s Anthony G. Halkias), it seems reasonable that Joseph could be deployed in a hybrid linebacker/third safety role by Woods at times throughout 2020. That echoes what DPD’s Dan Justik previously suggested, too.

The more Joseph has an interior impact, and perhaps plays as a hybrid, the better and more versatile the Browns’ defense can be in 2020.

As the season progresses, that’d potentially allow rookie Grant Delpit, a very versatile safety that could be quite a chess piece, to line up in the slot with veteran free-agent acquisition Andrew Sendejo operating more in the deep third, where he is much improved compared to earlier in his career with the Minnesota Vikings.

Sendejo did not fit in well with the Philadelphia Eagles last season, but that secondary was depleted throughout last year.

Anyhow, I’d expect much more consistent play from him for the Browns and especially with far better press man cornerbacks such as Denzel Ward, Greedy Williams, and when healthy, slot corner addition Kevin Johnson, on the field with Sendejo.

Swinging back to Joseph being a key indicator for the Browns’ defensive effectiveness, if he has issues staying on the field, which has been a problem for him in the past, that would put more onus on Delpit and likely prevent him being used much in the slot/in three/hybrid safety packages.

Additionally, Joseph, though he is a big hitter and can make plays on some crossers in that regard, is prone to missed tackles more in the open field with his high-impact style. If he can prove viable more in that hybrid linebacker role, though, and the less the Browns need to rely on him in coverage in the deep third, that’d allow them to be more multiple and dictate matchups.

Furthermore, let’s hope that Joseph, who had 49 tackles in just nine games but a missed tackle rate of 14.0 percent last season, can have closer to the 7.7 percent missed tackle rate he had in 2018 for the Raiders.

If Joseph can be an impact, but also sure tackler, and prove viable as a hybrid, it could allow Cleveland to have a more reasonable option against the likes of Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens’ rushing attack, along with preventing an RPO running element from the Cincinnati Bengals’ Joe Burrow, for instance.

Again factored in with that, hopefully Joseph in that role would help alleviate some deeper coverage burden for the first-year safety in Delpit, and along the Browns to bring more pressure. That could seemingly involve rookie linebacker and fellow former LSU Tiger, Jacob Phillips, along with Sione Takitaki in pass-rush situations.

Hopefully, Joseph can remain healthy, and have a considerable impact for the Browns, while proving to be a playmaker between the numbers.

Joseph is an instinctive run defender that gets off blocks well, and if he’s able to go, he couldn’t hurt the Browns’ run defense, which had a grocery list of issues last season, as they ranked 30th in the league in total rush yards allowed, per Pro Football Reference.

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Granted, if Joseph is expected to play a key coverage role, a la Damarious Randall last season, and/or provide plenty of support for Williams and Johnson, that would be less than ideal for Cleveland. I’d expect Woods to feature Joseph mostly in the box to maximize him and help improve the Browns’ defensive effectiveness on early downs, however.