#5 2021 NFL Draft Prospect: Kelvin Joseph (Kentucky)
6’ 1”, 195 pounds; RS SO
A former top 50 overall recruit, Kelvin Joseph started his career at LSU, where he saw action in every game as a backup, until getting suspended for the Tigers’ bowl game for violating team rules. He decided to enter the transfer portal after that year and had to sit out the 2019 season.
He picked off four passes and took one to the house in the first nine games for Kentucky and then sitting out the final two, to prepare for the draft. In any other conference, he would have gotten notice from league coaches.
Joseph primarily played boundary corner for UK, but also lined up exclusively on the wide side in a couple of matchups last season, either in soft press-man or cover-three. He displays patient hips – especially when staying balanced against hesitation/stutter releases – and is pretty light on his feet for a lanky corner.
Joseph has no issues running with vertical routes (go’s, posts, etc.) and if you need proof of his speed, just check him out almost chasing down the defensive end on his own team on a pick-six against Mississippi State last season. And when he sees his receiver break inside in man-coverage, he gets very physical with putting his hands on the opponent and then wrapping around, to knock the ball down.
You also see good fluidity in his lower half, when he is in a three-deep side bail and flips around by 180 degrees, to defend a deep out route. He is pretty springy in zone coverage and doesn’t allow certain route patterns to make him vacate his area. And when he is responsible for a deep third/quarter, he is actively looking for corner routes or anything coming across the field into his zone.
When the Wildcats played Florida last year, Joseph was matched up with superstar tight-end Kyle Pitts a whole lot, because the Gators put him at single-receiver, either in-line or split out wide, and while the CB did give up a touchdown on a slick corner-post route early on, for the final three-and-a-half quarter, he pretty much shut number 84 down.
Joseph really impressed me with the way he attacked the ball downfield and challenged the catch point, which his long arms are definitely a major factor in those jump-ball situations. When you look at Joseph’s four interceptions last season, they were all highly impressive – two came in the toe-tap catch at the sideline variety, against Mississippi State and Georgia, where he actually got both feet to land in bounds.
Then there was his pick-six, where he undercut an out route against Tennessee and then in the Alabama game, where they tried to beat him on an out-and-up, but after looking back to the quarterback on the break to the sideline, he quickly got attached to the hip of Devonta Smith again, kind of pushed him into the sideline and hauled in the underthrown pass.
On top of his coverage capabilities, Joseph shows good urgency to come up as a tackler and has the quickness to get around blockers, but also puts in work to disengage, when receivers do get into his chest. He plays strong contain and doesn’t mind engaging with tight-ends, plus he works upfield with good bounce as the force defender. He actually came up with a big fourth-down goal-line stop against Ole Miss last season on a toss play.
However, he is kind of an ankle-biter as a tackler and won’t set the tone at first contact many times. Too often he ends up on the turf, with the ball-carrier still on his feet, because his eyes aren’t up. The biggest area of concern on the field however, is that he only logged nine career starts and there are some intricacies at the position that he still has to master.
He also really just played in those single-high coverages – one and three – and you will have to limit the things you can ask from him potentially early on. His awareness in zone coverage and technique could still use some polish because of it. And while I don’t know all the background information, his future team will have to be comfortable with his rapping career and what got him suspended at LSU, plus work with him to avoid some of the unnecessary personal fouls he had in big games.
This is my guy to watch out for in this corner class. Just like Kentucky linebacker Jamin Davis, Joseph finds himself in my top five at his respective position and he has the upside to find himself even higher on the list, when we re-rank these guys a couple of years down the road.
In terms of pure talent and potential, Caleb Farley is the only name I would definitely put ahead of him. He just ran in the low 4.3s at Kentucky’s pro day, he has the physicality and fluidity, he doesn’t shy away from contact and he plays with that competitive swagger, which made him a standout player in what really was his first year as a starter.