The Las Vegas Raiders have not had a member of their secondary reach the Pro Bowl since 2015, despite spending plenty of resources towards the back half of their defense.
In 2019, the Silver and Black used one of their three first-round selections on hard-hitting safety, Johnathan Abram. You would be hard-pressed to find a better encapsulation of the Raiders defense as a whole, than the Mississippi State product. Despite displaying the skills and drive to be a truly special talent, injury and bad decision-making have plagued Abram’s first two years.
While it may seem harsh to say so soon, Abram’s already at a pivotal point in his career. Despite the level of draft capital used to obtain him, the Las Vegas front office drafted three safeties this year. This includes two players that could potentially fill Abram’s role. After another mediocre season, head coach Jon Gruden will not hesitate to make whatever changes he deems necessary. Abram is currently signed to a four-year contract with a team option for year five. Let’s discuss what he will need to do to make his stay in Las Vegas, permanent.
The best ability is availability
Heading into the 2019 season, Abram was seen as a major key to a revamped defense. Abram’s impact was actually felt right out of the gate in his rookie campaign. Unfortunately, Abram would suffer a severe shoulder injury that sidelined him after just one game. Given Abram’s heat-seeking style of play, better tackling form could have saved him from the injury altogether. While Abram was available more in his sophomore campaign, complete availability evaded him. He missed time due to lapses in judgment, which led to a stint on the COVID-19 list. If Abram were to miss time this season, his production could be replaced by Divine Deablo or Tyree Gillespie.
Play smarter, not harder
Something tells me if Jack Tatum were alive today and watching his team play, he’d be a big fan of Abram’s uber-aggressive playstyle. Being the favorite player of ‘The Assassin’ certainly sounds humbling. Unfortunately, it certainly won’t earn Abram any passes from officials. This goes for his teammates too, whom Abram has endangered from play to play.
At any given moment, ‘24’ could light up a receiver on a crossing route, stop a running back in the field or use his speed to break up a deep pass. However, he could also deliver a late hit that incurs a flag, get burned in coverage by a tight end, or fly in head first for a tackle and put his teammate in the line of fire. It’s too easy to point out how Abram can quickly go from hero to goat in two consecutive plays. We all recall the final game against the Chiefs in 2020, don’t we?
Abram needs to gel with Gus Bradley
Whether any player could succeed in a Paul Guenther-schemed defense should be the real question. Abram is a true box safety that excels when playing downhill. Out of necessity and a bit of nepotism, Abram spent too much time playing in single-high looks or shading larger tight ends. This coming season brings new saving graces in two forms. The first being second-round selection, Trevon Moehrig. The TCU product’s a true free safety that will allow Abram to thrive exclusively at strong safety.
Second, and most importantly, it’s new defensive coordinator, Gus Bradley. While Bradley isn’t Bill Belichick, he has a long track record of competent defensive units at multiple stops. With the level of newfound depth in the secondary and a true understanding of personnel from the coaching staff, Abram should be brimming with confidence come September.
What will 2024 Bring?
Due to the way safeties are constantly devalued league-wide, the roller-coaster nature of his play, and Gruden’s reluctance to pay defensive players, the Raiders may very well allow Abram to test the waters of unrestricted free agency in 2025. This is not to say they would let him walk. Rather, the Raiders’ brass has shown no hesitation in letting players drafted during this current regime go. This is, at times, without even considering a second deal in favor of possibly cheaper options.
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*Top Photo: Chris Unger/Getty Images