Oakland Raiders: What Johnathan Abram brings to the defense

STARKVILLE, MS - OCTOBER 06: Johnathan Abram #38 of the Mississippi State Bulldogs celebrates during the second half against the Auburn Tigers at Davis Wade Stadium on October 6, 2018 in Starkville, Mississippi. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
STARKVILLE, MS - OCTOBER 06: Johnathan Abram #38 of the Mississippi State Bulldogs celebrates during the second half against the Auburn Tigers at Davis Wade Stadium on October 6, 2018 in Starkville, Mississippi. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /

The Oakland Raiders drafted Mississippi State safety Johnathan Abram in the first round of the 2019 draft, so let’s go over what he can bring to the team.

Johnathan Abram, the hard-hitting safety out of Mississippi State was selected by the Oakland Raiders in the first round with pick No. 27.

Despite being Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network’s number one overall safety in this past draft class, this pick kind of came out of nowhere, and many fans were not happy with the selection at the time, including me.

This was due to him being known as a box safety and possessing a similar skill set to Karl Joseph who will be starting at free safety this year. After watching his film, you will see that he has the potential and physical abilities to be much more than just a box safety.

And if you were like me and didn’t like the pick at the time, your mind will probably be changed. So first, we’ll go over what he does well.


  • Speed
  • Burst
  • Acceleration
  • Physicality
  • Big hitter
  • Blitzing
  • Man-to-man coverage versus receivers

Abram ran a 4.45 40-yard dash which is, of course, an ideal time for a defensive back. He shows that speed on the field but it’s his burst and acceleration that really pops out when you watch him.

Abram can go from stopped to full speed like a Tesla can go from 0 to 60.

In the above video, you will see that burst on display at (1:00) and (1:22) where he comes flying into the screen to make a hit on the ball carriers That burst gives him the ability to have range in coverage and be able to make plays on the ball when in zone instead of giving up the underneath.

His physicality is also one of his greatest strengths, and you see that at (2:17) and (3:08) most notably, but many other times throughout the game.

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Abram is good in man-to-man coverage versus receivers as well.

At (1:59) he plays man-to-man on a receiver who runs a slant route. He breaks with the receiver at the right time and his physicality leads to the incompletion. Again at (3:51) he covers a slant route nicely and shows off some good footwork.

Later in the season, Mississippi State played Alabama and Abram had a few nice snaps covering Jerry Jeudy who is one of the top receivers in the nation. Abram didn’t fall for any of Jeudy’s hesitations and didn’t bite on his breaks.

That game also showed some of his weaknesses though which is what we will go over next.


  • Not tested much in deep zone/single-high
  • Struggled at times covering tight ends
  • Ball skills
  • Pursuit angles are inconsistent
  • Plays recklessly

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While Abram is really good in man-to-man coverage versus wide receivers, he did struggle at times versus tight ends which is concerning as Joseph is in the same boat.

If you click the above link for his tape against Alabama, at (0:55) he is covering now-Minnesota Vikings tight end Irv Smith Jr. and gets beat allowing a catch that is taken to the one-yard line. That is only one play which means nothing alone, but he did have similar struggles against Dawson Knox when playing Ole Miss.

Abram’s ball skills leave a little to be desired as well, as many plays, he will play the man instead of the ball. Not only does this limit his chances of making an interception, but it also risks a pass interference call especially nowadays in the NFL.

The last thing when it comes to his coverage which isn’t really a weakness but a question mark is his capability in single-high or deep zone. He was not asked to have those coverage duties much in college, but he has the speed, range and especially the acceleration to make up a lot of ground and be a true free safety to go along with his in the box skills.

Obviously being a good coverage safety isn’t just about speed or acceleration, but you can’t really be a good one without it as you can’t cover sideline-to-sideline.

The last two weaknesses listed are kind of nitpicks as they have to do with his play in the run which is overall solid and will be at the next level as well. His pursuit angles are inconsistent at times, and that goes along towards him playing recklessly.

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Sometimes he will come flying in and dive at a ball carrier instead of wrapping up. Other times he will overpursue and end up taking a bad angle ultimately removing himself the play.

Overall, Abram is the prototypical strong safety. Abram is instinctive, violent, and explosive, and while he wasn’t as highly-touted as Joseph coming out of college, I think he will be better as a rookie than his teammate was — he’ll likely, at least, be better in coverage.

The Oakland Raiders defense doesn’t really have a free safety or strong safety as they switch responsibilities depending on the play, but Joseph is supposed to be getting a lot more single high duties this year.

Though it isn’t completely known how good he is in that regard, and he has struggled in that role in the past.

If he does continue to struggle in that regard, we do not know how much safety Lamarcus Joyner will be playing, so Abram may need to take over those duties and hopefully, his lack of opportunities in the role wasn’t due to his own talent deficiencies.

dark. Next. Could the Oakland Raiders or San Francisco 49ers select someone in the 2019 Supplemental Draft?

Though if Abram can at least cover tight ends, that alone will make the defense a whole lot better.