Karl Joseph wore No. 8 at West Virginia, a number he couldn’t take with him to the pros. The NFL restricts options based upon position group, meaning the safety would end up with something in the 20s, 30s or 40s.
Joseph didn’t get a chance to choose. Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio selected a jersey for this year’s first-round pick, handing him No. 42 after he arrived in Alameda last week.
It wasn't by accident.
An excellent safety wore that number, and Bay Area football fans know him well.
The Hall of Famer was the top safety of his era, especially during a decade with the 49ers. Lott also spent two years in silver and black, including an eight-interception year in 1991 where he earned All-Pro honors.
Lott was the total package, an intimidator and a solid cover man who could ruin an opponent’s day.
The Raiders believe Joseph can embody those traits. Joseph welcomes high expectations, and was taken by the hand-selected jersey.
“It’s an honor,” Joseph said. “I didn’t actually get to handpick it. Coach Del Rio actually picked it, but I told him that was one of the numbers that I was actually thinking about. I am just going to try to represent as best as I can.”
Joseph doesn’t wear it much, if at all, right now. He’s recovering from an ACL surgery that stole most of his senior season and limited his activity during the pre-draft process. He missed last weekend’s Raiders rookie minicamp, and should be in recovery during the offseason program. Joseph expects to return for training camp, which leaves plenty of time to prepare for the season.
“Everything is on schedule right now,” Joseph said. “They’re not trying to let me go too hard, but the kind of person I am, I want to go and get it going. I’m on pace for everything though. Everything is feeling good.”
When his knee feels right, the Raiders can truly analyze their draft return, who has received some lofty comparisons to players he admires.
“There are a lot of old-school guys that I loved watching,” Joseph said. “Ed Reed, Brian Dawkins, guys like that. I like the way Earl Thomas plays and Tyrann Mathieu, those guys like that. They are very versatile with what they can do. They can do it all over the field.”
Joseph is often sold as a big hitter, a scary presence in the box. The Raiders harp on his versatility, that he can cover and do just about everything well.
“He’s an instinctive player,” assistant secondary coach Rod Woodson told SiriusXM NFL radio last week. “He’s not a Kam Chancellor, who is a box safety who can terrorize receivers coming across the middle with a lot of big hits. I don’t think that Karl Joseph is that guy. I think he’s more instinctive. He plays great in space. We all know the game of football is played in space, and requires great tacklers in space.”
Joseph isn’t perfect, but the Raiders believe he’s a natural at the position.
“One thing that drew us to him is that he works hard and is kind of a football junkie,” Woodson said. “You can’t teach the instincts that he has. Some guys have it. Other guys do not. It doesn’t matter how long you coach them; you can’t give those guys what he has. He’s going to be a great addition to the Silver and Black for quite a long time.”