Lamarcus Joyner: The Swiss Army Knife of the Raiders Secondary

In an offseason where the Raiders invested a significant amount of cash and salary cap space into Jon Gruden’s offense, there was still one who received a notable contract on the defensive side.

Lamarcus Joyner.

Joyner was a 2014 2nd-round pick (41st overall) out of Florida State, taken by the St. Louis Rams two seasons before they relocated to Los Angeles. The move to southern California just happened to coincide with the rise of Lamarcus as a premier player. During his final three seasons with the Rams from 2016-2018, PFF appointed him with an 86.9 overall grade. PFF also tracked that Joyner forced an incompletion on 25% of his career targets in coverage, which ranks 1st out of 229 qualifying safeties since 2006.

Some of that should explain the four-year, $42 million deal that he got from the Silver and Black.

A lot of the talk since Lamarcus was signed has been about his fit on Paul Guenther’s defense. Early indications seem to be that he will play inside as the starting nickel cornerback, taking on the responsibility of covering the opposing teams slot receiver. He has plenty of experience handling those duties, particularly in 2016, where he lined up as a slot corner in 533 of his 709 total snaps. Per PFF, Joyner allowed just 1.12 yards per cover snap in the slot, good for 28th out of 65 qualifying defenders that season.

In 2017, Lamarcus was moved primarily to free safety, and he did not disappoint.

His usage on the back end continued into 2018, as PFF tracked him playing 848 of his 1,100 snaps at free safety while playing on the franchise tag.

Having a versatile player like Joyner should give Guenther a swiss army knife in the secondary, so to speak. If you look at many of the successful defenses in the league, they have defensive backs that can play multiple positions at a high level. Interchangeable players give defensive coordinators the ability to alter game plans and make adjustments on the fly without being limited by their personnel.

Now the Raiders have one of those guys.

When I went back and watched Joyner’s film, it confirmed what the stats were calling out. He’s a playmaker all over the field, has good range, quickly diagnoses where the quarterback wants to go with the football, stays sticky in coverage and isn’t afraid to mix it up in the trenches and help in the run game. He’s even a solid blitzer, as he’s notched five career sacks and has made some nifty maneuvers to avoid blockers in the backfield.

As far as playing inside as the nickel cornerback, he’ll clearly be an upgrade over anyone the Raiders have fielded recently. One of my favorite Joyner snaps was in New Orleans against Michael Thomas, who is obviously one of the best receivers in the NFL. Joyner won the play, as he responded well to Thomas’ change of direction, exploded on the football, broke up Drew Brees’ pass right as it arrived and slammed the talented receiver to the turf as an exclamation point.

It was one play, but I was diggin’ it.

Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden have spoken about plays that “jump off the tape”, so there was enough of these kind of plays for the Raiders to justify the free agency investment in Joyner. After a 2018 season where Oakland’s defense ranked 26th in yards and dead last in points given up, they were desperate for difference makers.

Let’s hope the addition of Joyner can help this defense flip the script in 2019.