Over the past few seasons, the Detroit Lions safety group has been a problematic spot on the roster. Misuse of players from the previous regime, coupled with a lack of investment last season put the Lions in a position where they needed to make changes heading into the 2022 season.
First, they re-signed their backend leader in Tracy Walker and have put more on his shoulders as a leader. Additionally, they shifted some player roles, moving Will Harris to corner and cross-training Ifeatu Melifonwu at corner and safety so he can be more of a matchup weapon. Next, they added a veteran in DeShon Elliott, and for now, he is expected to hold down a starting role opposite Walker.
But their biggest move at the safety position this offseason may have been drafting Kerby Joseph in the third round with pick No. 97. Hopefully he—along with Walker—will represent the future of the position in Detroit.
At the moment, Joseph, like all rookies, is still adjusting to an NFL playbook and the pace of the game. But according to Lions’ safeties coach Brian Duker, Joseph is making strides and is ahead of expectations in his development.
“I would say Kerby is actually ahead of where I thought he’d be, to be honest with you,” Duker told the media on the final open day of OTAs. “I was really pleasantly surprised with him. With him, the biggest thing is just learning the verbiage. It’s so much bigger of a playbook than he’s really used to. So now understanding all the calls that are really involved and kinda getting your toolbox together is something we talked about a whole bunch.”
According to Duker, Joseph has integrated himself into the safeties room quickly and is attaching himself to veterans—specifically Walker—in order to shorten his learning curve.
“Kerby is a great guy man,” Walker told the media during minicamp. “He approaches his job each and every day, he’s always ready to work. He always asks questions which is great. He’s very in tune to what’s going on in here.”
Duker’s comments supported what Walker said about the rookie's work ethic, noting that Joseph is “humble” and recognizes that Walker and Elliott can be very valuable resources that he can learn from.
While Walker and Elliott are currently holding down starting roles, that doesn’t mean Joseph won't be on the playing field. There is value in getting young players on-field exposure, and if he earns playing time, the Lions’ will find spots to use him.
“Really, we go back to play time is earned,” Duker continued. “So if he does a good job and shows he’s really got value, we have a lot of packages, we’ve got a lot of different things we can do. So if he earns that, he really has a good — let’s say it’s third down and he can go get the ball and we want to put a bunch of DBs (defensive backs) on the field and he earns that spot, that would be a great opportunity for him and I’d be really excited to see him get the opportunity to go and do that.”
While Joseph has been getting looks all over the field during spring practices, the scenario Duker suggests would be an ideal usage of Joseph’s skill set. Rolling Joseph out at single-high—his natural position—in a multiple defensive back set, would allow his best traits—range and ball skills—to shine through. If he is able to find success in that type of role, his confidence should grow as he continues to develop in other areas.
“We always really knew he was a really rangy safety,” Duker said. “When he’s playing deep and the ball is in the air, he’s the same guy he was in college. He’s awesome at that. He goes and gets the ball. Now, for us, it’s how do you fit the run in our system? How do you play bunches in our system? How do you do all those kinds of things? He’s done a really good job and is ahead of where I thought he’d be.”