The Chargers signed 31-year old defensive tackle Linval Joseph to a two-year, $17 million dollar deal this week as the Chargers hoped to improve their run defense and solidify their defensive line heading into the 2020 season.
With the Chargers signing a trio of new players up to this point, I thought it would be a great idea to allow those who covered these players during their time with their previous team to educate the Chargers’ fan base on their newest Bolt.
For this piece, we got The Athletic’s Arif Hasan to answer a handful of questions about Joseph. He’s a heck of a follow on Twitter and probably one of the smartest guys I’ve had the chance to meet so go give him some love at @ArifHasanNFL. He did an amazing job giving thoughtful and detailed answers so let’s jump right in and get to know your newest nose tackle.
1.) For those who haven’t watched a ton of the Vikings games, what kind of player are the Chargers getting in Linval Joseph?
Arif: For most of his career, Linval Joseph was the rare pass-rushing nose tackle, who was also great in run defense. During the first four years of his Vikings tenure, he averaged a pressure rate over eight percent, which is only ever matched by one or two nose tackles in any particular year. That’s pretty similar to what Sheldon Richardson did last year and substantially better than Jerry Tillery.
While you might initially think he’s a pure power rusher — and he certainly is one of the strongest players in the NFL — he demonstrated remarkable agility and a variety of pass-rush moves, including swim, club, double-swipe and even an occasional spin move. I think in another era, he would be described as a “planet theory” player by Bill Parcells; ie there are only so many men over 320 pounds with strength, speed and agility. He’s disciplined in his reads and makes the pass-rush vs anchor decision quickly and accurately, especially after he got a handle of the defense in 2015. Lately, he’s dropped off as a pass-rusher, especially after a 2018 season marked by knee and shoulder injuries.
It would be tempting to say he fell off as a run defender, but I think he responded to reduced explosiveness and a smaller tackle radius by focusing on squeezing lanes and screwing up run reads, making him a fairly essential player in run defense either way, even if he was less effective overall. At this moment in time, I think the Chargers are acquiring a strong run-first defender who relies on anchor and the ability to eat up double teams, one who might have pass-rush potential and the upside to begin making plays in the run game himself.
2.) Some would say Joseph has regressed over the last two seasons. Others would say he isn’t that good anymore. I personally think he’s got plenty left in the tank. What are your thoughts on the subject and do you think his play could rebound in a new environment?
Arif: I think his 2018 injury is a pretty big part of his drop off. His two worst years include a year he got shot in the leg before the season and dealt with multiple injuries to his shoulder and ankles. I don’t think the injuries are cumulative and his bounce back in 2019 is encouraging in that regard. It should be noted he was still dealing with injuries during the 2019 preseason and missed a number of practices in training camp and missed preseason games. I think 2019 is his floor and if that’s the case, I would argue he is worth $8.5 million a year (4.28 percent of the cap, about tenth among nose tackle deals signed since 2014) and not much more. To that end, it’s a pretty good deal for the Chargers. Even better, if he’s fully recovered, he has the capability to push the pocket and create rare interior pressure for the position. You’ll never mistake him for Kenny Clark or Javon Hargrave as a nose rusher, but his ceiling has been in the second tier of pass rusher at the position. So the extent that he has stuff left in the tank, I’d be optimistic because the drop off seemed to be more injury related than age-related.
3.) If you were in the shoes of Chargers DC Gus Bradley, how you use Joseph in the Charger defense?
Arif: I’d play him both as a 0 and 1-tech. I know Gus Bradley has experimented with hybrid two-gap/one-gap fronts but it’s difficult to do that without a Red Bryant at 5- or a Vince Wilfork at 0- or 1-tech. I think Joseph thrives at holding a gap and delaying second-level defenders as a 1-technique, but I think he might still have the block shed and tackle radius — if recovered — to play as a truly devastating Ted Williams-type two-gap nose. I would still take him off the field on third-and-long and be sure to rotate another backup nose for a few series a game. He has also been effective in helping create good run defense in 3-3-5 nickel situations, so I would experiment with that too — one of the truly valuable things about a high-level nose tackle is how changing fronts can give you interesting pressure and personnel packages, not just in their ability to hold a gap and redirect runners. At worst, though, he can at least do that as a nose in a 4-3 (in either under or over configurations).
4.) Linval seems like he has an infectious personality. How would you describe him off of the field? What kind of presence will he bring to the locker room and his position group?
Arif: He’s incredibly laid back. One of those guys that ends up being low-key funny, with a well-placed joke in the middle of a conversation that stops everyone in their tracks. Maybe a good example of how he rolls with the punches is how he reacted to the meme of him wearing sunglasses and an oxygen mask (after an impressive fumble return) — he initially didn’t love that the image was going around, but learned to love it enough to get it as a tattoo. For the most part, he seems to be a natural leader and a stabilizing influence in the locker room that’s been a valuable asset to younger players. He’s also really attached to his roots and the community, something I’m sure you’ll see in Los Angeles.
5.) What would you say is your favorite memory involving Joseph?
Arif: It’s gotta be the fumble return and the subsequent meme. Can’t beat that.