Over the next few weeks, we’re going to take an in-depth look at each of the Jets’ offseason acquisitions, continuing today with defensive back LaMarcus Joyner.
The 30-year old is listed at 5’8” and 185 pounds and was a second round pick out of Florida State in 2014. In seven NFL seasons, he’s racked up 420 tackles, five sacks and four interceptions. He spent the last two years at nickelback with the Raiders but is reportedly joining the Jets to play safety.
Joyner was a five-star high school recruit who won the USA Today national defensive player of the year award after moving to cornerback in his senior year.
He was heavily recruited before deciding to attend Florida State, where he played primarily on special teams as a true freshman. However, he did start one game and played some reserve reps as a backup safety. He ended up with 23 tackles, two passes defensed and an interception.
He moved into the starting line-up at safety in his sophomore year, earning all-ACC second team honors as he posted a career-best four interceptions.
After a solid junior year, he moved to cornerback and was a consensus all-American as a senior, posting career bests for tackles (69) and sacks (5.5).
The Rams drafted Joyner with the 41st overall pick and he was their nickelback over the next three seasons, starting 15 games and racking up 178 tackles, four sacks and 13 passes defensed.
In 2018, he moved to deep safety following a coaching change and played the best football of his career over the next two seasons. Pro Football Focus named him as a second-team all pro after he recorded the first three interceptions of his career in 2017 and then he followed that up by posting a career-high 72 tackles in 2018.
The Raiders signed Joyner in 2019, but opted to move him back to the nickelback position and he was disappointing over the last two seasons. He started 16 games and recorded 115 tackles and eight passes defensed but did not force a turnover.
The Jets moved for Joyner in free agency after the Raiders cut him in March and signed him to a one-year deal.
Now let’s take a look at what Joyner brings to the table, divided into categories.
Joyner is undersized, although he does have adequate length for his size.
At the scouting combine, his numbers were quite good although his agility numbers were poor, which was a concern for a player who was expected to project well as a slot cornerback due to his lack of size.
His explosiveness numbers were very good, including an excellent first 10-yard split on his 40-yard dash, where he ultimately posted a 4.55. Joyner posted 14 bench press reps, which is not bad for his size.
Although he’s now 30, Joyner hasn’t had any major injuries so hopefully he won’t have lost a step.
In college, Joyner played mostly as a safety, but he moved to cornerback in his senior year and was an all-American.
At the pro level, Joyner played three years as a slot cornerback, then two as a safety, before moving back to slot cornerback for the last two seasons. As noted earlier, the two years when he was at safety were the best of his career and that’s where he’s expected to play with the Jets.
Clearly, he has the versatility to play all over the place and the Jets will no doubt look to exploit that versatility. He even filled in at outside cornerback in a 2015 game where Janoris Jenkins suffered a concussion and fared quite well, albeit mostly in off-coverage and with plenty of zone coverage responsibilities.
In high school, Joyner played as linebacker, safety, cornerback, wide receiver and kick returner.
Even when he was playing safety, Joyner was often placed into man coverage matchups and primarily featured in the slot. He’s given up a completion percentage of 70 percent when targeted and has been beaten for eight touchdowns in seven years.
At safety, he has good range and anticipation when roaming in deep center field which you would think would be his best role. However, according to Pro Football Focus, he had the fourth best grade when playing man coverage of all NFL cornerbacks from 2017 to 2019.
He has played a mixture of off coverage, press coverage and zone assignments over the course of his career. On this play, he moves onto an assignment on the outside and stays with his man, but loses separation at the catch point.
He has good footwork and flexible hips to mirror receivers and react to changes in direction, plus good closing and recovery speed and timing.
Joyner hasn’t posted massive numbers in terms of making plays on the ball, but did have eight interceptions in college and four in the NFL. Most of these interceptions came on downfield throws where he was playing deep, but this one went for a pick six as he made an athletic grab off a trap coverage.
He displays the ability to drop deep or into zone coverage and react to make plays on the ball.
On downfield throws he can sometimes be late to get his head turned to locate and make a play on the ball and this has led to some big plays down the field, especially given the disadvantage he already has with respect to his size.
Joyner has been a productive tackler as he closes well on the football and often packs a punch when making a hit.
As you might expect for someone who is undersized, Joyner can sometimes allow ball carriers to fall forward for extra yards and often has to hold his man up until reinforcements arrive to get him on the ground. However, he is feisty and battles hard to wrap up bigger players.
His missed tackle numbers are often quite high, although he had fewer in the two years when he was playing safety, which is encouraging given how he would have been the last line of defense.
He had three forced fumbles in his senior year at FSU, but only has two in his NFL career so far.
Despite his lack of size, Joyner brings good physicality to the table. He is often employed in press coverage and is effective at jamming his man at the line of the scrimmage.
On this play, he slows his man up and is physical at the catch point to disrupt and break up the pass.
However, if you’re putting your hands all over a receiver like this, you’re always at risk of being flagged for a penalty and Joyner has been called for 10 defensive pass interference penalties and 18 defensive holding penalties in his career. That’s an average of four coverage penalties per season. His nine penalties in 2019 were a career-high.
When ranging deep in center field, Joyner has good timing and can break up passes with big hits.
Joyner contributes well against the run and makes a good effort whether coming off the slot or coming up into the box from deep. On this play, he flies off the edge to make a stop.
He shows a good ability to diagnose the run on this play, where rather than follow the receiver in motion, he reads his keys and shoots a gap into the backfield.
He is always at risk of being swallowed up by a blocker due to his lack of size, but does a good job of getting out in front of blockers and fighting off them with quickness.
Joyner was one of the most effective blitzing defensive backs in the nation while at FSU, where he posted 5.5 sacks in his senior year.
His quick burst off the edge and ability to slip by his blockers makes him effective in this role even at the NFL level and he generates pressure at a good rate. He has five sacks in his career so far.
He has been called for defensive offsides four times and once for being in the neutral zone at the snap.
Joyner played a lot of special teams early on in his career, but hasn’t played at all on special teams over the last few years so may not be expected to do so with the Jets.
He played on the kick coverage units in his first year but most of his reps came as a vice on the punt return unit and as a punt gunner.
He got called for holding the gunner a couple of times when he was playing the vice role.
Joyner is regarded as having outstanding instincts, which are evidenced by all the position changes he’s had to deal with over the years. However, he has been involved in a few plays where miscommunication led to a blown coverage in the secondary.
Here’s a play where he smartly reads the run and avoids the slot receiver’s block to make the stop.
He is quick to react and rarely hesitates and, although this can lead to him being caught out by double moves or misdirection, that doesn’t happen often.
Joyner has a good work ethic and displays a lot of heart the way he competes with bigger players. He was considered a leader with the Seminoles and can carry those qualities into his role with the Jets now that he’s an NFL veteran.
He’s been called for two unnecessary roughness penalties during his career, including this controversial hit on Teddy Bridgewater, for which he was fined.
At the NFL level, Joyner has only played all 16 games once but he’s only missed 17 games in seven seasons and has played in at least 12 games in every year since his rookie season.
Any injuries he has had have not been serious. He missed three games with a groin injury as a rookie, three games with a hamstring injury in 2017 and two games with another hamstring issue in 2019. He’s also been listed with calf, ribs and quadriceps injuries.
Joyner didn’t have any injury problems in college, as he played in 55 straight games.
As noted earlier, the Jets have reportedly brought Joyner aboard to play safety, which makes sense given the fact that head coach Robert Saleh had a similarly versatile player in Jimmie Ward playing that role for him in San Francisco.
Joyner’s ability to contribute in the slot gives the Jets options in the event of any injuries at the cornerback positions and the other question is what might happen to last year’s third round pick Ashtyn Davis, who was widely expected to take the role that now seems set to be Joyner’s.
He has previously been teammates of current Jets players John Franklin-Myers, Tanzel Smart, Sam Ficken and Sharif Finch.
Joyner is the oldest of the players the Jets have brought aboard so far this offseason but his versatility and experience should be valuable to Saleh as he seeks to install his scheme.
While he has had a disappointing couple of years with the Raiders, Joyner still made a lot of good plays in Las Vegas and the Jets will be hoping he’ll be a good fit for them as he makes his return to the safety position.