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Roster impact of the Detroit Lions selecting S Kerby Joseph

Examining how adding Kerby Joseph will impact the Detroit Lions’ roster.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: AUG 28 Nebraska at Illinois Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Detroit Lions continued to add to the defensive side of the ball on Day 2 of the draft, selecting Illinois safety Kerby Joseph with pick No. 97 in the third round.

Joseph began his college career at Illinois as a defensive back but after two years as a reserve, coaches tried switching him to wide receiver—a position he played in high school. The switch to offense didn’t last long and he eventually flipped back to safety and earned a starting role in 2021.

“My senior season I feel like I took in a lot more extra effort,” Joseph told the Lions media in his post-selection Zoom call. “I feel like I started defining at least one position. I felt we weren’t about two positions—like receiver or safety—whereas I focused in on safety. I feel like that really elevated my game.”

As a starter, Joseph’s snap distribution at Illinois mirrors the Lions' usage of their safeties last season: Free safety (61%), Box (29%), Slot (9%), Outside CB (1%).

His experience in a split-zone concept will surely give him a leg up in adapting to the Lions' scheme. While he is versatile enough to take snaps all over the secondary and in the box, his best position is as a single-high safety where he can see the play develop in front of him, and he can use his athleticism and instincts to close on the ball. Once he gets himself into position, his natural wide receiver skills take over and he makes a lot of plays on the ball—he recorded five interceptions and seven pass breakups last season.

When in coverage, Kerby moves with fluidity and adjusts quickly when needed. His length (33-inch arms) and closing burst keep him in phase and on schedule.

As a tackler, when he flows downhill to the ball carrier, he shows the range and the ability to deliver hits. But far too often when he settles and squares up a ball carrier, he ends up on the losing side of the tackle.

To his credit, because he is such a solid tackler when running downhill, that skill translates to special teams, where he is expected to be an immediate contributor as a gunner, and likely will be considered a front runner for a starting role.

“I can do everything,” Joseph said. “My four years playing at Illinois, I did every special team corps that was known to man. I started off on special teams, which is why I know it, which is why I enjoy playing it.”

With Tracy Walker, Will Harris, and DeShon Elliott likely filling out the Lions' starting roles—at least at the beginning of the season—Joseph figures to be the top reserve, challenging C.J. Moore, Jalen Elliott, Juju Hughes, and Brady Breeze for time on defense.

It’s possible Joseph pushes for a starting job at some point during the 2022 season, but with Harris and Elliott working on expiring contracts, Joseph likely has the inside track to a starting role in 2023.