Newly-acquired defensive back Lamarcus Joyner possesses the skills to perfectly fill the New York Jets free safety spot.
It’s the offseason, but we should really call it overreaction season. During this time—when there’s no live football for us to entertain—anything can be used to fill our football entertainment vacuum.
Another chapter of the non-stop overreacting was recently written when New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh labeled franchise-tagged safety Marcus Maye as a strong safety, while also calling newly acquired defensive back Lamarcus Joyner a deep safety.
Many Jets fans were confused. Two of the arguments they made against the designations are as follows:
- Maye wasn’t great at strong safety last year.
- Joyner struggled in Oakland/Vegas and should be nothing more than a backup in New York.
Well, I’m here to tell you that both assessments are wrong.
First and foremost, Maye had a pretty decent passage at strong last year, before Gregg Williams decided it was time to move him back to FS. Have Jets fans already forgotten when the man caused turnovers vs. the Buffalo Bills in Week 1, matched up well vs. Jordan Reed in Week 2, showcased great skills in one on one coverage and played the run well when lined up close to the line?
Secondly, Joyner was not signed to play the same position he played with the Raiders – where he played the slot cornerback position and, indeed, struggled. Instead, Joyner was signed to be the Jets starting FS, the position he played for the St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams and at which he has a career grade of 90.1, according to Pro Football Focus.
Leaving Maye’s tape for a later date, Joyner’s free safety tape is what I’m going to break down in this article. Below are some plays that caught my attention and demonstrated his traits: awareness, ball skills and range.
Patience is key:
Lining up as a single high safety (Cover 1, Cover 3) is always hard. There’s too much ground to cover and the offense usually tries to put you in conflict when aiming for schemed second-level throws. On this play, the Cardinals are running a deep crosser concept: over and under, where the FS is put in check. If he waits, the under gets open, if he attacks, he might get beat deep.
Joyner plays this to perfection here, trusting his range and ball skills. No. 20 backpedals with his eyes on the backfield, waiting for the quarterback to make the decision. Just like the 2021 Jets (everybody hopes), the 2017 Rams had a nasty pass rush, and, on this play, they got into the quarterback before the throw, giving Joyner a duck to his lap.
Even though the pass was not great, the turnover only happened thanks to Joyner’s patience and awareness, which allowed him to be where he needed to be. The best free safeties in the NFL do that often: wait for the quarterback to make his call and then use their speed and range to get to the football.
Meaning of range: what you think is open, is covered:
In a quarters look, this play is all about Joyner’s range. What the quarterback thought was open, was covered.
Joyner, here, drops 20 yards back after the quarterback throws the ball and INT’s the football. Just fantastic range and ball skills, abilities that are extremely important for a deep safety.
Playing downhill, strong hitter:
Joyner is a free safety with a strong safety mentality. That’s why he’s interchangeable and that’s why the Raiders tried to play him closer to the box.
In this play, he’s the single-high safety on a Cover 1. It’s all about recognition.
Once Joyner recognizes it’s a three-step drop concept by the offense—i.e., the ball needs to be out quickly—he allows himself to play downhill and aggressively. Joyner lays a solid hit on the weapon while forcing an incompletion.
All in one: awareness, short-area range, interchangeability and ball skills:
The last play of this breakdown might very well be my favorite one. Joyner, in this play, shows great understanding of quarterback.
He knows he’s the key to the quarterback’s read, so he must be patient and trust his short-area range—only make a decision after the quarterback makes his, not giving him an easy completion. This play also shows Joyner’s ability to interchange. He’s lined up close to the LOS, covering the flat in a Cover 3 defense.
Watch how Joyner goes step by step here and snags a pick-6:
The plays above were my favorite ones in Lamarcus Joyner’s tape with the Rams (three picks and an aggressive hit) in 2017, a year when he had a 91.0 overall grade at Pro Football Focus. The tape backs up the analytics: Joyner is a rangy, aggressive free safety that plays the position like the best ones in the league while trusting his ability to get to the ball after the throw.
Saleh has a unique way of deploying his safeties, with interchangeability at the forefront. Having Joyner harmonizes with that, as he’s a guy that is fantastic deep yet also possesses the instincts to play closer to the line.
I won’t lie: I love Marcus Maye deep, too. But he’s well suited for the strong safety role as well. And when it comes to safeties, I prefer to trust Robert Saleh—especially when it concerns a guy he used to face twice a year—than my own overreacting judgment.