When Johnathan Abram made his debut on Hard Knocks in 2019, his unrelenting desire to hit people, quickly helped him emerge as a fan favorite. Unfortunately, Abram tore his rotator cuff in 2019’s Week 1 and would miss the remainder of the season.
In 2020, Abram remained off the injured reserve, despite seemingly increasing his intensity. For a majority of his season, Abram profiles as a bright spot for the Raiders’ dull defense. He constantly destroys opposing ballcarriers.
However, the same aggressiveness that made fans take notice and fall in love with Abram could also be his downfall. If Abram avoids penalties for some sort of unnecessary roughness or unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in a certain game, there is always at least one play where a picky ref could see an infraction. Abram did receive an unnecessary roughness call against the Chiefs, which turned a third and short into a first down.
Not only can Abram catches flags for his aggressiveness, but said aggressiveness can also pull him out of position. For example, on Kansas City’s game-winning drive, Abram left his zone in the endzone for a chance to fire his body at a scrambling Patrick Mahomes, leaving Travis Kelce comically open for the score. Abram’s no holds barred tackling strategy can lead to some impressively powerful tackles, but can also lead to the opposing ballcarrier breaking through a quick-slap arm tackle and powering through the secondary.
Feast or Famine
Having a player that can utilize the hit stick like Abram is every defensive coordinator’s dream. Plus, it is incredibly exciting to watch him play, but he stays a high risk/high reward player.
Cost Benefits Analysis
With the Raiders defense performing the way that it has, the team is forced to take the high-risk chances in order to reap the high rewards, like Abram’s explosive third-down hit on Christian McCaffrey in Week 1. But, like betting the house on red at the roulette table, trading a guaranteed defensive stop for a 50/50 chance at an earth-shattering tackle is not something to be done often, yet it is starting to appear that that could be the only level Abram knows.
There is a reason a majority of defensive backs in the NFL do not play at the speed Abram does. The approach is analytically unwise. Plus, by taking a conservative approach, you can ensure a tackle. Again, the Raiders can’t always make conservative tackles as their defense does not flash consistency. Abram’s aggressiveness can work now. However, when the Raiders’ defense begins actually succeed, someone must help him downshift into a slightly less aggressive gear.