The Detroit Lions really needed a safety in this draft. For days we kept wondering when it was going to come. Would the Lions take Kyle Hamilton in the first round? Jaquan Brisker on day two? What about Smoke Monday on day three? In the end, the Lions passed on all of them and got their man in round three when they drafted Illinois safety Kerby Joseph.
In order to learn more about the Lions’ new safety, we enlisted the help of Illinois football beat writer Bob Asmussen from the Champaign News-Gazette to help us out. Here’s what he had to say:
What are your overall thoughts on Joseph’s time at Illinois?
“I think he showed great perseverance during his Illini career. He was willing to do anything to get on the field, playing special teams, trying receiver. Whatever it took. His career reminds me of former Illini defensive end/outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus. Though they are obviously different in size, they both seemed to have that drive to get to the next level. Whitney came out of nowhere his final season in 2011 and turned himself into a first-round draft pick. Nobody who watches the Illini would have predicted that going into that season. Same thing with Kerby, who had been a contributor for Lovie Smith but was not counted on to provide big plays. That changed in 2021 when a new coaching staff turned him loose and he came through. It was one of the more surprising seasons I have seen in my three-plus decades covering the team. Give Kerby a ton of credit for putting the work in, which he will continue to do with the Lions.”
Joseph played a lot of single-high safety last year, how much versatility does he have outside of that?
“He was tried at a lot of different spots by the old staff. He was a talented two-way player in high school. So I think he has the ability to work wherever the team needs him. He told me before the draft that moving around from defense to offense gave him a helpful perspective on the field. He can get into the head of the guy he is trying to stop. Kerby seems to be a guy who learns from his mistakes. He will get better as the season goes along. The fact that he jumped right in with the new staff speaks to his coachability. He bought in from the start, which was part of the reason he excelled.”
Joseph seems like an athletic pick at heart. Can you talk about how that athleticism manifests itself on the field?
“The speed part is obvious. He is able to get to the ball quickly and finish the play when he arrives. He is a solid tackler. Not the type to miss very often. He will be especially dangerous when he gets the ball in his hands on picks and fumble recoveries. He will revert to his receiver days and try to get the most out of the moment.”
How quickly do you think he can start in the NFL?
“If he stays healthy (which he did for most of his college career), it will be early. He was part of two rebuilds at Illinois and wants to do what he can to help the Lions contend in the North. He flourished when Bret Bielema took over as head coach. Over the years, Bielema has produced his share of NFL starters. Kerby will be the latest. He will contribute in ‘22 and my guess is starting in ‘23.”
Once that day comes, do you think he can be an impact player?
“No doubt. Will he be a Pro Bowler? That might be a bit too optimistic. But he can help build the Lions into a winner. He believes in himself and wants to have a long NFL career. He is a good guy who has the right priorities. Had he come back for a final season at Illinois, I think he would have continued to climb the draft board. Now, all that production will be dedicated to the Lions.”