Johnathan Abram quickly bonded with Jon Gruden at the Senior Bowl despite representing a team the Raiders weren’t coaching. Abram is a physical, aggressive player with talent to spare and swagger Gruden loves. That made the No. 27 overall selection a natural fit. The Raiders brought the Mississippi State safety in to help lead a promising secondary. That’s the short- and long-term plan, with the rookie moving into the starting lineup faster than anyone not named Josh Jacobs.
Let’s take a gander at Abram’s rookie outlook as part of our series on the entire Raiders draft class.
Draft slot:No. 27 overall (First round)
Weight: 205 pounds
School: Mississippi State
Abram plays like an old-school safety, a thumper unafraid to make a big hit. He’s built like a prototypical NFL safety, with the physical traits to step in and compete right away. He can mix it up near the line of scrimmage, takes proper angles to the ball and has proven adept at the lost art of tackling. Safety duties are interchangeable between free and strong spot, and he can flow from coverage to run play with ease.
Those following this year’s draft class have heard tons about his leadership, and that was evident to new teammates and coaches during the offseason program. He’s already a popular guy unafraid to talk trash in practice, confident he has done the work and has the talent to back it up.
Training camp proving ground
Abram was moved up to the first unit late in OTAs, and looked comfortable there then and during a mandatory minicamp that closed the offseason program. Continued progress is mandatory as intensity ramps up with padded sessions, joint practices versus the L.A. Rams and preseason games. Thriving through that series of tests should land him in the starting lineup right away, likely the third Raiders first-round pick in as many selections to be a feature player.
Abram never was a big interception guy in college. He had two in three seasons as a regular, but posted diverse stat lines with high tackle totals, sacks and passes defensed. He also comes with the enforcer tag, something 2016 first-round pick Karl Joseph also likes to wear.
The Raiders would love it if he and Joseph can compliment each other well in the back end. The Raiders need a vocal leader confident in system knowledge playing deep, which might frequently be Abram if Lamcarus Joyner continues near-exclusive play at slot cornerback and Erik Harris is a reserve.
He also has the size and speed to cover tight ends and receivers, which could help strengthen a weak spot in recent Raiders defenses. The Raiders need a safety who can do everything well, and Abram has the skills to do that right away.
Abram has both a high ceiling and a high floor. Bust potential is of no real concern within the organization, meaning slower-than-ideal development might be as bad as it gets for someone many considered the 2019 NFL draft’s best safety.
The Raiders need an instant impact from Abram, and waiting a year is not ideal even with Joseph and Harris capable of playing significant safety snaps and Joseph fully capable of playing an excellent free safety. Abram taking a year-plus to develop into a starter would prove an unexpected setback for a defense looking to build a young foundation and tweak secondary rotations from Plan A to Plan B.
There’s little at this point to suggest Abram won’t be a Day 1 starter. Pairing him with Joseph seems like the hopeful outcome, though partnering with Joyner in the back (in the base defense at least) may be best in the short and long term.
He should provide consistency and explosiveness lacking from the safety spot recently, with the size and speed to cover tight ends that have plagued Raiders defenses.
High hopes are warranted for an entertaining player who works extremely hard and can be a tone-setter right away playing deep or in the box.