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Steelers 2016 Draft Prospect Breakdown: West Virginia Safety Karl Joseph

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West Virginia safety Karl Joseph was on pace for a prolific senior campaign before suffering a season-ending injury to his ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) during a non-contact practice drill in early October. Will he be on the board when the Steelers are on the clock in the second round?

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Karl "the Hitman" Joseph is one of the more intriguing prospects in the 2016 draft class. A violent tackler, Joseph was considered a sure-fire fist rounder before suffering a season-ending ACL injury during a non-contact practice drill in early October. Through the first four games of his senior campaign, the undersized safety recorded an FBS-leading five interceptions, three of which came in the season opener against Georgia Southern. Following his outstanding performance in the 44-0 blowout win, Joseph was named Big 12 player of the week, and national player of the week by the Football Writers Association of America.

Joseph underwent a successful surgery to repair his ACL on October 13, 2015. The operation was performed by world-renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews. Joseph has spent the last several months rehabbing in preparation for the 2016 NFL Draft, but it's unlikely he'll be able to show case his skills at the NFL Combine, which is set to begin Tuesday, February 23. His draft stock will depend heavily on whether or not he can participate at West Virginia's pro day in April.

Joseph made a name for himself at West Virginia as one of the hardest hitting defenders in the nation. His play at the back end of the Mountaineer defense over the past three seasons is best characterized by a total lack of regard for his own body when attacking ball carriers at the line of scrimmage, or flying at receivers in space.

But Joseph is more than just a thumper. He finished his college career with nine interceptions, and possesses the speed and athleticism to play center field, and make plays on the ball down field. He was also the Mountaineers' team captain as a junior and senior, and a leader on and off the field. The standout safety started every game throughout his freshman, sophomore and junior seasons, and started all 38 games in which he played.

Physical Tools

Height: 5'11"

Weight: 197 lbs.

Statistics

2012: 104 tackles, 7 tackles-for-loss, 2 interceptions, 6 passes defensed, 3 forced fumbles, 1 sack

2013: 68 tackles, 3 tackles-for-loss, 1 interception, 4 passes defensed

2014: 92 tackles, 4.5 tackles-for-loss, 1 interception, 3 passes defensed, 3 forced fumbles

2015: 20 tackles, 5 interceptions, 1 pass defensed, 1 sack

Awards

  • 2012 West Virginia Defensive Player of the Year
  • 2012 Freshman All-America
  • 2013 All-Big 12 Conference Honorable Mention
  • 2014 All-Big 12 Conference First Team

Projection

NFL Draft analyst Mike Mayock recently published his list of top five players at every position for the 2016 NFL Draft, and he has Joseph ranked as the No. 1 safety prospect ahead of Vonn Bell, Darian Thompson, Miles Killebrew and Jeremy Cash. Joseph will surely be invited to participate at the 2016 NFL Draft Combine in Indianapolis next week, but it's unlikely he'll be able to participate. Therefore, his draft stock will depend heavily on whether or not he can perform at West Virginia's pro day in April. Due to the uncertainty surrounding his ACL injury, most NFL scouts and draft pundits have him being selected in the second or third round.

Tale of the Tape

Joseph opened up his senior season with a bang, recording eight tackles, three interceptions and a fumble recovery in a 44-0 win over Georgia Southern. The senior safety was all over the field in this game. On this play, Joseph follows the slot receiver in motion, and anticipates the sweep to the left side of the formation. He takes a perfect angle toward the line of scrimmage, while using his exceptional straight-line speed to come down hill and recover the fumble.

Joseph's second interception of the game came with just over ten minutes remaining in the third quarter. West Virginia does a nice job of disguising its coverage on this play. At the snap, it appears Joseph is in zone coverage, but when the corner blitzes, the slot receiver becomes his responsibility. The pressure from the corner blitz causes the quarterback to rush his throw, and Joseph makes a beautiful one-handed pick.

Like Darian Thompson, Joseph is a true all-around safety, with the ability to play the run and the pass with equal effectiveness. Once again, he flashes his straight-line speed on this third down stop, weaving his way past the pulling guard to take down the ball carrier in the backfield.

Part of what makes Joseph such a great run stopper is his willingness to sacrifice his body. At 5-foot-11, 197 pounds, he's undersized for an NFL safety, but he more than makes up that lack of size with his fearless attitude. Joseph is constantly attacking with purpose, always trying to knock the ball loose with his helmet or shoulder. This, of course, could be a concern for some NFL teams, who will see the combination of his smaller frame and violent playing style as a recipe for injuries down the road.

In Conclusion...

Joseph's ACL injury and lack of size will likely prevent him from being taken in the first round. If he's on the board when the Steelers are on the clock in the second round, however, such a talented player could be too valuable to pass on with the 58th overall pick. It will be interesting to see if Joseph can participate at his pro day, and how that will effect his draft position come April. If he checks out medically, Joseph is capable of becoming a high-caliber starter at the NFL level.