AP Sports Writer
ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) — The Oakland Raiders set out this offseason knowing they needed to retool a secondary that was suspect at times last year and then lost star safety Charles Woodson to retirement.
The Raiders hope they found the final piece when they drafted hard-hitting West Virginia safety Karl Joseph with the 14th overall pick on Thursday.
“You can feel his passion,” general manager Reggie McKenzie said. “You can feel his intensity in the way he plays. You can feel his toughness. He has a very aggressive mentality. He’s versatile. He can play all over the field, and he’ll run and hit anything that moves.”
Retooling the secondary was a high priority for Oakland after struggles last season. The Raiders filled two big holes in free agency when they signed cornerback Sean Smith and safety Reggie Nelson and then added Joseph, who will push veteran Nate Allen for a starting role.
Joseph is versatile enough to play in the box against the run as well as play in coverage.
“I’m a dog,” Joseph said. “I’m sure all the coaches would tell you that. I feel that intensity. I feel that chip on my shoulder. I’m very confident in myself and I play with a deep passion and love for the game. I don’t think there’s anyone else in this draft who plays with more passion than me.”
He played just four games last year before a season-ending knee injury but McKenzie said Joseph was cleared by doctors. Joseph said he will be ready to play by the start of training camp this summer.
Joseph had five interceptions last year, including three in the opener against Georgia Southern. Joseph had nine career interceptions in 42 career games in college as he proved he is much more than just an intimidator in the secondary.
“I wouldn’t take anything away from his ball-hawking ability, his ball skills, his instincts, his ability to read quarterbacks and catch balls,” coach Jack Del Rio said. “He’s a playmaker. He’s a playmaker that takes good angles and also tackles and is known for hitting, but he’s more than just a hitter.”
Joseph chose not to attend the draft so he could watch the proceedings with his family in Haiti, where both he and his parents were born. He said the excitement of his family after getting the call almost brought him to tears.
“Everybody dreams of walking across the stage,” he said. “With me, I wanted to do something that meant a lot more, being with my family. I wanted to come out here with my family and shed some light on the country and some positive about where I’m from and give the people something to be happy about.”
After struggling to find impact players in his first two drafts as Raiders general manager, McKenzie struck big the past two years in building a foundation he hopes will end a 13-year playoff drought.
Oakland took Pro Bowl pass rusher Khalil Mack fifth overall in 2014 and added quarterback Derek Carr in the second round. The Raiders then took receiver Amari Cooper fourth overall last season and have added five other projected starters in the past two drafts.