Johnathan Abram lost 15 games and more than triple the practices his rookie year after tearing his rotator cuff in the Raiders’ regular-season opener.
That’s invaluable experience the tone-setting safety can’t get back. Last year’s No. 27 overall NFL draft pick still found ways to get better and avoid the depression associated with such professional disappointment.
Most players on season-ending injured reserve vanish, returning to the facility for checkups and required rehab appointments. Abram, however, was at the facility a ton. He was determined to stay engaged in meetings or private film sessions with Raiders staff.
“Being around the team really helped me mentally,” Abram said during Super Bowl week, an exclusive interview available on the latest Raiders Talk podcast. “Being around the guys, going through game plans and seeing all the adjustments that needed to be made was what helped me the most. I couldn’t exercise my muscles. I had to exercise something.”
With his shoulder in a sling, Abram exercised his mind. Many in silver and black call Abram a third first-round pick entering in 2020 after he missed so much time, but the 2019 selection comes with a solid knowledge base and a more mature perspective entering his second NFL season.
Abram may have played the season opener against the Denver Broncos a little too wild and aggressive at times, but that would’ve tempered some had he gotten the chance to play on and learn by doing.
A shoulder injury he suffered in the first quarter of his first game and played through denied him that chance and brought a new and difficult reality to a campaign filled with optimism.
“It was frustrating, but it was a lesson I needed more than anything,” Abram said. “My entire career, I had never been injured. I never had to go without the game. It taught me some valuable lessons, to appreciate the game. Coach Gruden says all the time that the best ability is availability.”
Abram is nearing full health now and expects to be 100 percent and ready to go during the Raiders offseason program.
“What I went through last year has only made me more eager to get back to work,” Abram said. “Everybody got a taste of what I could do, but it was nothing near what I’m capable of. Coaches saw glimpses in camp, but I had to tone it down going against my teammates.”
There was a pair of teammates Abram studied in college that he was able to learn from when healthy and after he got hurt. Lamarcus Joyner and Karl Joseph were vital to Abram’s growth during a mostly down year.
“Two of the guys I modeled my game around, I got a chance to play with,” Abram said. “When I was a freshman at Georgia, [then Bulldogs defensive coordinator] Jeremy Pruitt had coached Lamarcus Joyner at Florida State. That was one player he always showed me as an example of playing with relentless effort. He wasn’t the biggest or strongest, but he never gave up and always played aggressive football. That was something implemented into my game.
"Then, when I went to junior college [in 2016], I watched a guy go in the first round for knocking the crap out of people. That was Karl Joseph. I learned that I can get turnovers and knock people around and set the tone, I can get drafted really high. I just took that and rolled with it. Both of those guys influenced my game and having the chance to be around them as a rookie was truly unreal.”
Abram will build off his experience in 2019 and try to realize vast potential. The Raiders have great confidence in Abram as a producer and a leader who should set the tone in the secondary.
“A great safety is important in every system,” Abram said. “It’s vital. Coach Gruden tells me all the time that he needs me to be a leader, to get people to rally around me and bring the energy. Sometimes people are flat. I’m always pumped up and ready to go. I bring energy all the time, and I think people respect that.”