After adding help to their defensive line in the first and second rounds of the NFL Draft, Lions general manager Brad Holmes turned his attention to the secondary by drafting Illinois safety Kerby Joseph in the third round with the No. 97 overall pick.
A sideline-to-sideline safety who recorded five interceptions and defended seven passes last season, Joseph also played some receiver at Illinois. Once he became a starter at safety and was able to focus on that aspect of his game, he took off and was wildly productive. He was one of only 12 players in the FBS with at least five interceptions last season.
Joseph told reporters Friday night after the pick that his dramatic rise in production his senior season was due to the fact that he could focus on playing safety instead of switching back and forth between both spots.
"My senior season I feel like I took in a lot more extra effort," Joseph said. "I feel like I started defining at least one position. I felt we weren't about – or, two positions were like receiver or safety, whereas I focused in on safety. I feel like that really elevated my game."
A hamstring injury prevented him from running at the Combine or his pro day, but he had a 38.5-inch vertical and a 10'3" broad jump, so he's an explosive athlete at 6-foot-1 and 203 pounds.
He was a good special teams performer in college as well, starting as a gunner on punt coverage the last two seasons and playing over 400 special teams snaps.
"I can do everything," Joseph said of his special teams ability. "My four years playing at Illinois, I did every special team corps that was known to man. I started off on special teams, which is why I know it, which is why I enjoy playing it.
"This season, I scored the first points of the college football season against Nebraska. I got a safety against Nebraska, so that was lit, I scored the first points. So, that was fun. Freshman year, my first tackle was on special teams, so I was also grateful for that because I never had a college tackle before."
The Lions re-signed safety Tracy Walker this offseason and also signed veteran DeShon Elliott to a one-year deal, but Joseph should come in and compete right away for a role on special teams and push Elliott for a starting job next to Walker.