Nine defensive backs went in the first 40 picks in May's draft, none as versatile as the 10th.
Lamarcus Joyner played cornerback and safety, and was used as a pass rusher and run defender during his time at Florida State. He played in pure man, pure zone, and man-zone combination coverages. He's done it all, which is why he's the perfect fit for Gregg Williiams' defense in St. Louis.
“It’s a creative, movement defense that caters to his skillset because of his versatility,” says Bleacher Report columnist and former NFL safety Matt Bowen, who played for Williams during his time with the Washington Redskins.
Williams will play Joyner at nickel cornerback to begin, but even that asks a lot from the 5’8”, 184-pound rookie, according to Bowen. The position is different in this defense than most in the NFL because it frequently puts the defender on an island, forcing him to confidently make several different types of plays.
The plays he’s expected to make in St. Louis are the same kind he made throughout his college career.
Season Opener: Pittsburgh Panthers
First-and-10. Shotgun set. Doubles formation. Joyner is in the slot across from the No. 2 receiver at the top of the right hash. He makes it clear that he’s in man coverage when he stares down the receiver, awaiting his release, be it a vertical stem or a flat stem. A vertical stem doesn’t necessarily mean a vertical route; it could be a quick route like a square-in or a hitch. Whatever it is, he’s ready to break on the throw if it comes his way. It’s what he does best.
He stomps his feet. The ball hasn’t been snapped yet, and he’s growing impatient. He waits and watches. Then suddenly the play begins, and the receiver rips off three long strides. Step. Step. Step.
Joyner is threatened and takes three one-inch steps back until the receiver rounds inside off his left cleat and raises his hands to catch the pass. At the same time, Joyner lowers his hips and folds his stomach, propelling himself to the ball off his left leg. He’s anticipating the ball will be thrown two yards inside the hash. He bursts to the spot and drapes his arms over the receiver’s back, pulling his left arm as he strips the ball out and forcing an incomplete pass.
Rivalry Game: Florida Gators
Florida is in spread shotgun with a trips bunch to the quarterback’s left on third-and-5. They’ve designed this formation to provide free releases for at least two receivers. It’s used to create confusion among defensive backs and set picks on them, generating yards-after-catch opportunities.
Joyner is two yards off the line of scrimmage across the point-man, with his eyes focused on the backfield, showing zone coverage or a blitz. He’s one of three defenders to the side showing pressure.
As the snap nears, he shuffles his feet closer to the offensive line and staggers his right foot, anchoring his frame.
The linebacker on the opposite side drops off into coverage, becoming the sixth man in coverage and setting up a five-man rush. It’s a fire zone call, the same kind of call that Gregg Williams used in a 2004 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to blitz with Matt Bowen four times. The Seminoles have duped the Gators into blocking two rushers with three linemen. This leaves the left tackle to block two, including the third rusher, Joyner.
Joyner blitzes in between the left tackle and left guard, where the B-gap is stretched with an outside rush by one of the rushers and a stunt inside by the other rusher. Joyner accelerates once the gap widens and bursts through before opening his arms out to wrap the quarterback as the pass is thrown. He’s a step late, nearly adding to his team-high 5.5 sacks, but forces a lob that’s eventually dropped near the linebacker in coverage. Another incomplete pass caused by Joyner ...
ACC Championship: Duke Blue Devils
Second-and-14. The Blue Devils are in shotgun with a twin set and a running back offset to the quarterback’s right. Farther down, Joyner is in slot coverage at the 26-yard line. He’s six yards from the receiver, his knees slightly bent and shoulders parallel to his feet.
Hike! Joyner stutter steps back, watching the slot receiver’s release. It’s flat, parallel to the line of scrimmage, smoothed into a shallow crossing route, or what West Coast Offense disciples call a “drive” route. It leaves Joyner buzzing in hook coverage near the 30-yard line and watching the quarterback.
The quarterback looks to the middle where the outside receiver has run a dig route. But with Joyner underneath, he thinks again and looks to the flat, where the once offset running back has leaked out of the backfield. He throws a tight spiral to the running back, who looks back to track the ball and extends his arms to catch it.
As soon as the ball comes into his hands, he looks downfield and is suddenly leveled by Joyner. The ball tumbles to the ground as the running back is spilled to the Duke sideline, where coaches and players are left staring.
The Rams stare too when they roll back the film to complete their scouting report. Joyner has everything they look for.
In Williams’ defense, the nickel cornerback and free safety positions are the most important, according to Bowen. When Bowen played in Washington for two years under Williams, the coach frequently moved the team’s best cornerback, Shawn Springs, into the slot. Now he will do the same with Joyner, who they selected No. 41, the exact pick NFLdraftscout.com analyst Dane Brugler would have taken him. Brugler, like the Rams, sees him as a “natural nickel CB/FS fit, similar to a Tyrann Mathieu mold.”
Despite Joyner’s college success, he’ll have to prove his worth again. He’s immediately considered a starter in Williams’ defense because he can defend the run, cover and blitz. The pressure will be on him to perform.
“I’m telling you right now — Gregg will probably put him in tough situations in the preseason to test him,” Bowen says.