Lamarcus Joyner was recruited to Florida State to play cornerback and logged his first action there as a true freshman in 2010, posting 23 tackles, two passes broken up and an interception. IN 2011, the FSU coaches moved him to strong safety, where Joyner started all 13 games, earning second-team All-ACC honors after tallying 54 tackles, a sack and three pass breakups. As a junior, Joyner once again started all fourteen of the 'Noles' games at safety, helping Florida State's defense lead the nation in yards allowed per play (3.86) and rank second in total defense (254 ypg). As a senior, Joyner moved back to his freshman position - sort of. He finished his career in Tallahassee in a hybrid cornerback/ nickel role, setting career-best marks for tackles (with 69, seven of which were for loss), sacks (5.5) and forced fumbles (3) - enough to merit First Team All-ACC and First Team All-American honors.
Joyner's bouncing around the Seminoles' defensive backfield is at once an asset (he's versatile!) and a liability (he's a man without a position!). Not only will NFL teams have to determine where to play him, they will have to decide whether his diminutive size (5'8", 184) is a dealbreaker or whether they can live with it, considering he plays like he's 6-2 and 225 pounds. Pound for pound (and inch for inch), Joyner may well be the best player in the draft: he is an aggressive player who comes downhill quickly, and hits like a truck when he arrives at the ballcarrier. In the passing game, he uses impressive acceleration and burst to close on the ball quickly. Furthermore, Joyner has good football smarts, diagnosing plays quickly and accurately.
Want some evidence? No need to go any further than Draft Breakdown, where the pigskin potentates have six of his games available for your viewing pleasure. If you want to see him at safety, they have a compilation of his play against a bevy of 2012 opponents (Clemson, Virginia Tech, Boston College, Georgia Tech and Duke). Interested in his cornerback play? Watch him last year against Sammy Watkins and Clemson.
What do our panelists think of Joyner, his best position and his game? Let's take a looksee...
Dane Brugler (NFLDraftScout.com): 4th-ranked Safety;no overall grade
Strengths: Silky athleticism with explosive closing burst and natural acceleration to speed from 0-to-60 in a flash...springs in his legs to get high as a leaper and generate explosion from his lower body...fast off the edge as a blitzer with excellent pursuit speed...controlled footwork with sharp, decisive angles to take the quickest route to the ball...ballhawking instincts and read/reacts quickly with active, disciplined eyes - natural feel on the football field with a high football IQ...savvy, smart and heady awareness to get his head turned and find the ball...fearless and doesn't play hesitant with excellent timing on tackle attempts and when the ball is in the air...physical vs. the run and a punishing hitter with a knack for stripping the ball (3 FF as a senior)...uses his size to his advantage to avoid blocks...experience on ST as a KR...three-year starter (41 career starts) with experience lining up at FS, SS, NB, CB and a hybrid version of all of them.
Weaknesses: Very short and his lack of size and length shows up in coverage and run support - limited growth potential and is likely maxed out physically...will attack the ballcarrier too high and slide off his target, struggling to finish his target by himself...overaggressive and will bite on fakes, allowing the WR/RB/TE to gain a step...aggressive at the LOS, but needs to refine his press technique and patience...will get too grabby downfield and makes a lot of contact due to his lack of size, attracting holding or PI penalties...needs to show better ball security on returns.
Summary: A highly-recruited five-star DB out of high school, Joyner earned several National honors as a prep player and received scholarship offers from just about every powerhouse program, eventually choosing Florida State. After serving as a reserve CB as a true freshman, he moved to safety as a sophomore and set career-bests with seven passes defended and four INTs, earning Second Team All-ACC honors. Joyner again started every game at safety as a junior before moving to a nickel CB role as a senior in 2013, earning consensus All-American and All-ACC honors. His lack of height, length and overall build will show up in coverage, but he plays like he's four inches taller and 30 pounds heavier with his fearless demeanor in both coverage and run support. Joyner only knows one speed and has the natural explosion and football smarts to be an all-around DB with the versatility to play man, zone and be a force near the LOS as a blitzer or vs. the run. His marginal size might scare off teams, but he projects best as a nickel CB/FS in the NFL who can roam and allow his ballhawking instincts take over - top-50 talent in this draft class.
Gary Horton (ESPN.com): 7th-ranked CB; 47th overall
Instincts/ Recognition: Football junkie. Studies tape and it translates to field. Recognizes formation tendencies and frequently adjusts accordingly pre-snap. Occasionally got crossed up on rub routes but more often than not does good job recognizing route combinations in zone. Reads quarterback's eyes and shows consistent ability to get an early break on the ball. Above average overall discipline. Has experience at CB and FS. Spent most of 2014 season working at CB (outside and slot). Lot of similarities to Tyrann Mathieu, including natural playmaking instincts and leave-it-all-on-the-field mentality.
Cover Skills: At his best in zone. Reads quarterbacks' eyes effectively and shows good spatial awareness when doing so. Shows above average press technique. Has experience playing man (press and off) and zone from slot position, as well as centerfielder role as FS (mostly before 2013). Shows acceleration out of turn when in trail. A sudden athlete but feet are quicker than hips are fluid. Marginal size and pedestrian top-end speed are significant concerns and are likely to be limiting factors in NFL. Smaller, twitchy receivers can gain separation with double moves, especially if he fails to make contact at line. Athletic and physical enough to match up with bigger WRs and flexed TEs, but poor size creates matchup limitations.
Ball Skills: Does good job tracking ball on over-shoulder catch. Flashes ability to open up and snatch ball out of air. Consistently tries to rip ball out of receivers' hands before secured and instinctively punches at ball as tackler. However, does not possess good natural hands. Fights ball and also will let ball into pads. Really struggled catching ball during pro day. Size also puts him at disadvantage competing for jump balls.
Run Support: Plays the run with a LB mentality. Love the way this guy plays the game. Is aggressive and physical. Shows good upper-body power and violent hands for size. Times blitzes well and comes screaming off edge. Shows great closing burst and surprising pop for size. Slips a lot of blocks in tight spaces but can get overwhelmed when blockers reach and lock out. Above average pursuit angles and also gives great effort backside, which has resulted in him limiting damage on big plays allowed. Reliable open field tackler with above average body control. Squares up and latches on.
Intangibles: High-energy player with professional work ethic. Loves the game and it shows on tape. Excellent during interview process. Outstanding football character and intelligence. Moved from corner to safety in 2011 and named team s most improved player on defense. Strong student. Has a son named Jamarcus.
Dan Shonka (Ourlads): 3rd-ranked SS; 98th overall
Three-year starter, two at strong safety. Plays big in big games. Moved to corner in the new FSU defensive package, but is still the same instinctive and aggressive player he was as a strong safety. A good athlete with good foot quickness and hip flexibility. Can stick his foot in the ground and drive quickly on the ball. No hesitation. Sticky man cover ability. Good speed, burst and acceleration. Has cross field catch-up speed. Plays with confidence and poise. Highly competitive. Good vision and ball skills. A tough and explosive athlete who is a good tackler and situation blitzer. Best position for his skills, corner or safety? Physical size and scheme fit.
Nolan Nawrocki (NFL.com): 22nd-ranked CB; no overall grade
Strengths: Instinctive and anticipatory. Advanced understanding from the back end -- makes subtle, pre-snap adjustments and diagnoses plays. Steps downhill quickly. Outstanding overall production in all facets. Good competitive playing speed -- runs as fast as he needs to. Very good football-playing demeanor -- confident and opportunistic. Showed up in big games and made clutch plays (see Clemson). Times up the blitz very well and plays bigger than his size. Has contributed as a gunner and displayed good short-area burst in the return game. Exceptional work ethic and leadership traits. Respected, vocal team leader with an infectious attitude that can unite a locker room. Has been extremely durable, especially given his size and playing style.
Weaknesses: Average athlete. Tight-hipped and rounds off breaks -- not sudden. Lacks foot speed to carry receivers vertically from the slot and is seldom placed in situations where he can be distressed in downfield coverage. Lacks size and stature for press coverage. Can be out-quicked by shifty slot receivers. Marginal recovery speed and catch-up burst when he gets caught peeking. Struggles to match up with size and speed in man coverage. Makes mental mistakes too much in banjo coverage and struggles to sort out bunch sets. Does not have a body ideally built to withstand a 16-game season.
Draft Projection: Rounds 4-5
Bottom Line: A terrific college football player and galvanizing leader for a national champion, Joyner is a tweener lacking unique physical traits for the pro game, and his dimensions leave him vulnerable to mismatches. However, he possesses special intangibles which could enable him to make his mark on special teams and compete for a sub-package role as a short-hole plugger where he can make plays on the ball in front of him.ole plugger where he can make plays on the ball in front of him.teams and in the return game to carve a role. Has a make-it attitude and winning mentality that could allow him to overcome his physical limitations. Compares favorably to Panthers 2009 seventh-rounder Captain Munnerlyn.
As with NFL front offices, our panel of scouts are neatly divided on Joyner. If they like his game and aren't put off by his size (Brugler and Horton) they feel confident that he's worth a top-50 pick. If, on the other hand, they fear that his size will be a liability or will keep him sidelined (Shonka, Nawrocki), they look at Joyner as a third- or fourth-rounder. I think he's one of the most dynamic players in the draft, built in the Tyrann Mathieu mold. As such, I'll follow Brugler and Horton, and place Joyner (at safety) in round two on my "little board."
I suspect that the Cowboys feel the same way about his game; its hard to imagine that the would have wasted a precious Valley Ranch invite on a player they thought was too small to consider. They need an influx of speed and playmaking ability, both traits that Joyner has in abundance. Moreover, they appear to want to diversify the defense - or, more properly, to draft more versatile players who can adapt to a variety of alignments, making it harder to exploit a given formation.
That said, I wonder if they'll spend their only second-rounder on an undersized safety. What I mean by this is that, should they engineer a trade back that gives them an extra second- or third-round selection, they'll be much more able to afford to pick up a corner/safety hybrid in the second or early third rounds, in between picks that fortify their respective offensive and defensive lines. If, through the vagaries of the draft, they can get him in round three? I'd be very, very pleased.
Later today: Now that you've seen how the national draftniks rate Joyner, stay tuned for our in-house scout, Joey Ickes, who will post a detailed film study of the former Seminole later today!
Tomorrow: Northern Illinois safety Jimmie Ward.