Pro Bowlers agree: Joseph belongs with NFL's elite


HONOLULU -- Wade Phillips was named the NFL coordinator of the year on Friday. Cornerback Johnathan Joseph may well have been the free agent acquisition of the year.

After helping Phillips ignite a remarkable turnaround for the Texans' defense in 2011, Joseph is enjoying a well-deserved first trip to Hawaii for his first-career Pro Bowl.

"I always told my wife and my family we would never take a trip to Hawaii unless I make it across the water with a Pro Bowl selection," Joseph said on Wednesday. "Things worked itself out, and I was able to bring my family, so it's a week that we're going to enjoy and be able to remember for years to come."

If you listen to Joseph's all-star peers, he should have been in Hawaii a long time ago.

"I'm glad he's getting what he deserves now," Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey, an 11-time Pro Bowler, said on Friday. "He's getting the notoriety that he deserves. He's been playing well when he was in Cincinnati for a while. To see him propel his play and kind of become the leader of a defense, that's great.

"His ball skills are amazing. That's one thing you can't coach, no matter who you are – guys that make plays on the ball when they get opportunities – and he's one of the guys to do it. Bar none, one of the best in the league."

Joseph, 27, signed with the Texans in late July as an unrestricted free agent from Cincinnati. A first-round draft pick from South Carolina in 2005, he had 14 interceptions in five seasons with the Bengals, including four in 2007 and six in 2009.

In his first season in Houston, Joseph tied for the Texans' team lead with four interceptions and had a team-high 15 passes defensed. The Texans improved from 32nd in passing defense (267.5 yards/game, seventh-worst in NFL history) in 2010 to third (189.7/game).

"(He's) one of the best in the league," said Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis, a four-time Pro Bowler. "I've known Johnathan for a long time, since he's been with Cincinnati. We've been good friends, and it's good to see him finally get recognized as being a Pro Bowler. Should've made it when he was with Cincinnati, but obviously, he got overlooked. But now he's made it, and I'm happy for him."

Revis, who received 48 of 50 votes for the Associated Press All-Pro team this year, raved about Joseph's cover skills.

"He locks on his guy," Revis said. "There's not a lot of space or cushion when he covers, so I think he does that very well, and he's fast. He's very fast. He can keep up with these guys. Receivers are growing tall as trees now and they're running 4.2s, low 4.3s. Us as small guys, we just gotta make sure we're speed-wise we're up there and also quick-feet as a DB."

It's hard to measure a cornerback's success with statistics, but this much is clear: Joseph was the best player in the secondary of the NFL's second-best defense in 2011, a shutdown corner who was everything the Texans thought he would be and more.

The Texans allowed almost as many total yards (285.7) per game this season as they did passing yards (267.5) in 2010.

"I see a young guy, very aggressive and playing the game the way it's supposed to be played," said Packers corner Charles Woodson, an eight-time Pro Bowler who finished one vote ahead of Joseph for 2011 first-team All-Pro honors. "Of course he got the big deal (in free agency), but I don't think anybody really expected him to play as great as he did, even though he did have great years coming out of Cincinnati.

"He was a big difference-maker on that team, especially with Mario Williams going down, being a guy that stepped up and got them to where they were, into the playoffs for the first time."

The only wide receiver who topped 100 yards against Joseph this season was Anquan Boldin of the Ravens in Week 6. Boldin had eight catches for 132 yards, a large chunk of which came on a leaping 56-yard catch.

Only one other receiver had even 80 yards against Joseph – Steve Smith of the Panthers (five catches, 82 yards) in Week 15.

"We put him on the other team's best receiver every game," Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said on Thursday. "Even the last game, his guy (Baltimore's Torrey Smith) caught one pass for nine yards in a playoff game. So, that tells you a lot about him."

Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace, one of the fastest players in the league, had four catches for 77 yards against the Texans in Week 4. Forty of those yards came on one of the few plays in the game that Joseph wasn't covering him.

"He's a great player," Wallace said. "I've been going against him since my rookie year in Pittsburgh when he was in Cincinnati, so I know all about him, man. Physical player, fast player, smart. The Texans got every bit of their money worth with that guy. He's a great player."

Bengals Pro Bowler A.J. Green faced Joseph twice this season. The 6-4, 207-pound rookie receiver had five catches for 59 yards in Week 14. In the Texans' Wild-Card playoff victory over Cincinnati, Green was targeted 12 times but caught only five passes for 47 yards. Joseph also had an interception in that game.

"He's probably one of the best I've been up against," Green said. "He's one of the premier corners in the league. It's always good to test where my game is (going) against him. I think he's just so smart, and he can just read your hips and just knows when to break down and in and out your breaks."

Absorbing mutual respect from the top players in the league has been one of the highlights of Joseph's week in Hawaii.

"Just to see a guy like Champ who has 11 (Pro Bowls), Darrelle Revis' fourth Pro Bowl, all those guys, just to talk to 'em and just to hear some of those guys say some good things about you, it's good to know that they're watching you as well, because I've been watching those guys since I've been in the league," Joseph said.

"It's a tremendous accomplishment just to be out here and be a part of the top guys out here being selected to this Pro Bowl."

It's an accomplishment that Joseph is likely to achieve for years to come.

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