The 2022 NFL Draft class is going to need some of its eligible participants to level up their respective games for the upcoming fall if we’re going to have the kind of enthusiasm about the top of the board as we’ve had in the past few seasons. There are some drafts that are absolutely loaded with talent, and then there are drafts like the class of 2013–you know, good players to be found, just not necessarily the returns you’d expect at the top with names like Eric Fisher, Luke Joeckel, Dion Jordan, Lane Johnson, Ziggy Ansah, Keke Mingo, Jonathan Cooper, Tavon Austin, Dee Milliner, and Chance Warmack being featured in the top-10 overall picks.
I’m certainly not saying we’re facing the threat of such a class in 2022, thanks in large part to some star power outside of the quarterback group, but the TDN scouting staff does perceive a bit of a void between the 32 slots in the first round and the number of prospects who grade out in that range. For some, it is a matter of consistency. For others, there’s a need for more big plays and production despite quality talent. But for Northwestern safety Brandon Joseph, it is simply a matter of time.
Joseph feels destined to be the next quality safety prospect in the NFL draft. Based on his redshirt freshman season in 2020, he’s well on his way to being Northwestern’s 11th first-round draft choice in the history of the program.
The Wildcats collected two such honors this past spring with Rashawn Slater and Greg Newsome II having their names called in the first round, but I would venture to say that Joseph played just as good of a season at safety as Newsome II did at cornerback last year for the Wildcats. Joseph was an AP First-Team All-American and became the first Big Ten defender since Marshon Lattimore and Malik Hooker (2016) to log three interceptions in the first three games of the season. And over nine games, Joseph plucked a total of six interceptions with an additional eight passes defensed (by the school’s credit). He aligned in the high post, he aligned in the slot, he aligned as the strong safety, and fit the run effectively and confidently.
Again, as a redshirt freshman.
It was the variety of things that the Wildcats asked him to do (and the effectiveness of all of it) that left me so impressed when studying his film. Our friends at Pro Football Focus credited him with 24 targets over the course of the nine-game season in 2020 and Joseph nearly logged as many interceptions (6) as he did completions allowed (8) on the year. Playing deep zones and attacking errant floaters is one thing, but Joseph tracked the ball on crossers and even matched up one on one in the slot with Garrett Wilson in the Big Ten Championship to log this beauty:
And when filling the run, he wasn’t passive or hesitant. He triggered on the run with confidence and illustrated sound tackling habits on his way to finishing fourth in the team in tackles.
Again, as a redshirt freshman.
And that is what stands out the absolute most when taking inventory of Joseph and his draft resume. Yes, the play was stellar. But it isn’t supposed to be this good and this diverse early on. When I wrote up Joseph’s player assessment for our summer scouting efforts, I struggled to really walk away with criticisms of his play other than noting the small sample size of dominant play.
“Cons: There aren’t a lot of holes in Joseph’s resume other than experience. Joseph has played in just 13 collegiate games and started nine of them, so continuing to prove last year’s peak performance wasn’t an aberration will be the biggest thing for him. Continued refinement in angles and further improved anticipation could net him some added ball production, but he’s already quite strong in this area. If he’s afforded more opportunities to play in the slot and lock into man-to-man opportunities and he excels there, his stock will likely skyrocket.”
As the saying goes, there’s “a lotta ballgame left” in Joseph’s college career with the Wildcats. And as a redshirt sophomore in 2021, he may not be in the draft pool for several seasons. But if he maintains the quality of play he illustrated last year, he may not have much of a reason to stay in town (unless he gets drafted by the Chicago Bears). In a pool of eligible draft talent that features so many players in need of adding to their resume, Joseph is in a unique spot. The only thing he needs to do to make a push to be a top draft talent is more of the same from 2020.
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