Without support, a tent becomes a nylon tarp. Likewise, without support, a decent football team becomes a burning trash heap. Having great starters is obviously a major plus, but football is a dangerous game, and what if a team is missing some of its starters? At the safety positions, the Raiders boast Lamarcus Joyner with Karl Joseph alongside him. Joyner was listed as the 6th best safety in the league by PFF last year, and Joseph surged through the second half of the season to land himself at 23rd on the same list. This in itself is great news, but there is more to consider.
Next Man Up
If Joyner and Joseph are unable to be on the field, Erik Harris and rookie Johnathan Abram are slotted to replace them. Despite loads of potential between the two, a safety corps led by Harris and Abram sounds slightly less appealing.
Harris finished the 2018 season surging, having recorded two interceptions and 13 tackles in the team’s final three games. Harris coming to form gives the safety corps some depth, but it does not appear he will get many looks as a starter.
On the other hand, Abram arrived this April. Safety does not feel like a position to toss a rookie in to, but many unofficial depth charts have him listed as the starter. It would be very surprising to see Abram get the start Week 1 against the Chiefs but expect him on the field during preseason games.
However, Abram may be the total package as a safety. Abram is big enough to cover tight ends and distribute punishing hits. However, he remains quick enough to cover any receiver headed his way.
While “position battle” sounds negative, it is exactly what the Raiders need at safety. Harris currently has lost the position battle on his end, but Abram may have the skills to force one.
A position battle shows depth. If two players are both good enough to compete for a starting spot, there will be a very capable backup if the player originally chosen to start cannot perform. If a team has every roster position set before August, that team is either not good or it lacks depth.
Having one “very capable” backup for two safeties is certainly not ideal and could make repeatedly running nickel defenses difficult. Yes, Harris is improving quickly, but currently the Raiders do not have a full set of backup safeties.
The demise of any defense, but especially an understaffed one, is having to stay on the field. With this currently understaffed safety corps, the Raiders can substitute only one safety. Coincidentally, leaving a tired player on the field could also turn into a liability.
The Raiders now face with the decision of depending on Harris or looking to other rosters for help.