Those were the words muttered when the Rams selected the diminutive yet powerful Lamarcus Joyner. In college, Joyner had experience both as a safety and cornerback, which is part of the reason he was such a high selection. Not only that, but even with his small stature standing only 5’8”, Joyner played like the biggest and most physical guy on the field.
Fast forward five years and Joyner has spent his entire NFL career with the Rams. Originally, Joyner started his career at nickel CB and spent three years there until Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips came to town and decided to switch him to free safety. Initially, the move proved to be pure brilliance as Joyner was a star in 2017. He was so good that the Rams knew they couldn’t afford to let a young and ascending player walk after proving his worth in a contract year. Unfortunately, they couldn’t work out a long-term extension and Joyner was franchise tagged.
Now, about 3⁄4 of the way through 2018, Joyner hasn’t shown the same capabilities as he did the year prior. For example, Joyner was rated a top-two safety on Pro Football Focus’ rankings all of last year. Now? He’s currently at a 70.9 grade, which would place him as their 35th ranked safety.
So that begs the question, what’s wrong?
I’m not entirely sure there’s even an answer. Joyner has regressed in a big way this season and some of that probably has to do with the duties the single-high free safety is responsible for in Phillips’ scheme. The Rams primarily run a cover-1/cover-3 scheme meaning the boundary cornerbacks will operate on an island (themselves) and there will be one-deep safety that needs to have the speed, range, and football intelligence to be able to cover the entire backend on his own. Typically they do this because Joyner does have good range and SS John Johnson III is used to cover tight ends (not always, but mostly).
In 2017, the Rams generally did the same thing, but they did also allow Joyner to kick down and cover slot receivers and tight ends in man-to-man coverage occasionally, and the results were great. 2018 hasn’t brought forth the same responsibilities though. Joyner has struggled with most of his game this year. The two main areas I think he’s struggled most with is reading the field/QB as he routinely can get moved in the wrong direction, and taking bad angles on tacklers in the open field.
Here’s an example of Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes manipulating Joyner with his eyes:
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Well, Joyner is once again slated to hit the free agent market upon conclusion of the year. Where that situation becomes interesting is that the safety market absolutely tanked last year in free agency. Many guys didn’t receive the offers they expected, evidenced by Tyrann Mathieu settling for a 1-year $7m deal from the Houston Texans and Tre Boston signing a 1-year $1.5m deal.
On the franchise tag, Joyner made $11.2m this year. That’s an astronomical amount when compared to other safety contracts that were long-term:
Earl Thomas signed a 5-year deal in 2014 as one of the best safeties in the league. He was making 10M APY and had 14,25M guaranteed over the life of the entire contract.— Sosa (@QBsMVP) December 5, 2018
Joyner got 11.3M all guaranteed just this season. That's wild. https://t.co/XUZ4JHQq3o
Currently, it’s unknown whether the Rams have the intentions to re-sign Joyner. For a fair price they might want to, but his play this year suggests that he isn’t worth the long-term contract (at this point in time) that many (including myself) were clamoring for just a few months prior. Lastly, the Rams have shown a propensity for letting quality players in their secondary walk. The list includes Rodney McLeod, T.J. McDonald, Janoris Jenkins, and Trumaine Johnson.
Should the Rams re-sign Joyner?
Maybe, but my opinion thus far into the season probably thinks a divorce is coming. As mentioned prior, the responsibilities of the single-high safety in Phillips’ defense are paramount, so if the Rams think they can find an upgrade by finding someone more natural for the position, then they might choose to head that route. A fun — and interesting — option could be someone like Earl Thomas from the Seattle Seahawks. Thomas has proven to be one of the best single-high safeties ever, and with the way he was treated this season, he’d likely love to stick it to the Seahawks twice next year.
What do you think the Rams should do with Lamarcus Joyner?