I’m a big Ryan Neal guy. Sorry to all the people named Johnathan Abram who are reading; I promise this post is about you. Just... give me a moment.
Neal is aggressive, smart, has exquisite timing, has room to grow, and is familiar with the Seahawks defensive scheme, such as it is in its evolving state. He ballhawks, he hits hard. These are good things. PFF loves him, too. When he went down with injuries to his shoulder, ankle and knee in back-to-back weeks last month, I was dubious that his replacement would fill his shoes close to adequately.
I’m a lot less dubious now. Johnathan Abram is a name few would have recognized a month ago, unless you were a 2019 draftnik who remembers him being selected by the Raiders 27th overall. Yes, 27th overall. Abram’s a first-round talent. He didn’t finish his rookie contract with Las Vegas — released midseason — and technically the Seahawks are his third team of the season. (The Packers waived him November 29.)
Actually let’s recap Abram’s November for a sec. While football fans everywhere were planning Thanksgiving, eating the feast itself, watching the Lions (luv you Dan Campbell xoxo, text me), and then making leftover turkey sandwiches*, Abram suited up for three NFL teams. Vegas, then special teams exclusively in Green Bay, before finally getting claimed by Seattle on November 30. And you thought your holiday was a whirlwind.
*better than the roasted turkey the first time around. you know I’m right
Now he’s practically a fixture, a pleasant surprise, another buy-low defensive back plucked from obscurity and thrust onto the largest stage by the top DB guru in the league. (To clarify: that person is Pete Carroll.) The Seahawks coach does this all the time. He plugs in castoffs, believes in them, gives them a chance. Not successfully all the time, but all the time. And the “successfully” happens enough to forgive the swings and misses.
Because for every Cary Williams adventure there’s a D.J. Reed discovery. For every Lano Hill gamble there’s a Quandre Diggs jackpot. And maybe, maybe, maybe, for every Dion Jordan cautionary tale there’s a Johnathan Abram success story. Possibly.
I mean, consider the Seahawks defensive numbers pre-Abram, and them with him:
Before and After
|Stat||Without Abram||With Abram|
|Stat||Without Abram||With Abram|
|Rushing TD allowed||19||2|
|Passing TD allowed||21||2|
We’re talking about a three-game sample in the final column, so all the caveats are there for the takin’. But a mix of the juggernaut Patrick Mahomes Chiefs, the hot-and-cold Baker Mayfield Rams, and the depleted Mike White Jets is fairly representative of the league at large.
The little bits of film out there on Abram are encouraging, too, so why not:
This is brilliant from Jonathan Abram. Lot of nice boot pickups in this game even if one-on-ones in clear passing situations may be an issue https://t.co/8j2G4rmAEL— Matty F. Brown (@mattyfbrown) January 12, 2023
In the play above, the Rams run what used to be the Seahawks’ favorite offensive play: boot with three targets racing toward the sideline, all at different depths. We’ve seen Geno Smith check it down to the near route, pick up a first down with the medium target, and even notch a couple explosives with the deep crosser. Abram takes the medium option away with great recognition. He’ll be tasked to do the same against the 49ers. He’ll need Diggs’ help in coverage — good thing the Seahawks free safety is in fine form at the moment.
mcvay keen to SEA setting their fronts to close off boundary b gap all game to help LBs push to field for boot. but he also realizes that they check under to TE wing for gap schemes so he puts wing to the boundary to constrain LBs. luckily abram plays heck out of his rule as flat pic.twitter.com/ZKc5nyMlgK— playoff geno (@cmikesspinmove) January 11, 2023
There’s so much to love about Abram’s awareness on this play. He walks up pre-snap, diagnoses, maintains the integrity of his zone responsibility despite all the commotion, keeps the receiver on his radar, and waits to commit to the runner, without waiting too long. Makes the tackle, too, which has not always been a guarantee in the 2022 Seattle defense. Abram is twitchy the whole time, prepared to pounce. He looks, dare I say, Seahawky. In the good way, before the post LOB-transition to whatever they are now.
If there’s a knock on Abram it’s his tackling; if there’s a second it’s his health record. He was 21st from the bottom in missed tackle percentage among safeties and 68th among all DBs. He whiffs 14.9 percent of the time, per PFF. That’s some below average performance. Then there’s the fact he missed almost all of 2019 and finished 2021 on IR. So durability is a question, tackling is iffy, and both are spotty enough to cause real concern, but the immediate future is Saturday, and one loser-goes-home game.
Christian McCaffrey and Deebo Samuel, hybrids extraordinaire, can only be contained by a safety who’s capable of making split second decisions as illustrated above in the two clips. It’s premature to definitely label Abram as That Guy, because if he were he would’ve probably showed it more frequently in Oakland and Las Vegas. But why can’t he be that guy for 60 minutes? That’s how long the season is now.