Among the many needs for the Detroit Lions entering this offseason included the safety position.
The organization knew it had a void opposite veteran Tracy Walker III, and thus, it brought in two players to compete for the second safety spot: Former Baltimore Ravens safety DeShon Elliott, who was added in free agency, and Illinois defensive back Kerby Joseph, who was selected in the third round of the 2022 draft (No. 97 overall).
Elliott is the early favorite to claim the job, but Joseph is expected to get a chance to prove his worth, coming off an impressive 2021 campaign with the Fighting Illini.
The 6-foot-1, 200-pounder not only tied for first in all of college football in interceptions in 2021 (five), but he also tied for third in the nation in fumble recoveries (three). In doing so, he became the only player in the country with five or more interceptions and three or more fumble recoveries during the regular season.
For his efforts, he received the highest Pro Football Focus grade of any defensive back a season ago.
It was a breakout campaign for Joseph, which came after he had been a mainstay on special teams over the first three years of his career at Illinois. He was even listed as a wide receiver as recently as 2020.
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Now that he's made it to the NFL, he's ready to contribute to the Lions in any fashion possible, as he joked about Saturday during his rookie minicamp media session.
"I already told Coach El (wide receivers coach Antwaan Randle El) whenever you need me, just holler at me," Joseph told reporters.
He received some nickel and special teams reps during his time at Detroit's Allen Park practice facility over the weekend, and it exemplifies the versatility he wants to add to the team's defensive backs room.
"That's actually what I want to do. I want to be able to be more versatile around the field. So, I'll always be on the field and never have to come out in different packages," Joseph said. "So, I can play nickel, safety, and you can throw me in the corner spot if you want to, just as long as I can stay on the field, as long as possible."
After only one year as a starter at safety at Illinois, it's expected that Joseph will be a little raw going into his first year as a pro. However, he expressed Saturday that he's more than willing to take heed to the advice of Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn and defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant.
"I do need to experience more things, but that's why I'm here. Being under AG (Glenn) and Coach AP (Pleasant), those guys are going to get me right, and I trust them with that," Joseph said. "And, I'm always willing to learn. You've got to be coachable to play this game. So, I'm always willing to learn. Every time I go in there, I come in with a notepad, taking down notes."
Joseph will have an ample amount of time to continue to soak up the lessons of Glenn and Pleasant and to continue to garner new experiences in the league. However, there's nothing that likely will compare to his first time stepping on to the Lions' practice field. He described it as a humbling moment for himself.
"Just coming out for practice for the first day yesterday, it was just like, 'I'm actually out here.' It was a lifelong dream come true," Joseph said.