With three picks in the top 45 selections and several positions of need, Green Bay has an opportunity to land instant contributors and long-term cornerstones next April. While the Packers figure to improve their depth at edge rusher with at least one of those picks, their need to improve the safety position truly revealed itself as the 2018 season wore on. And because of that, the name Johnathan Abram should be on Packers fans’ radars heading into pre-draft festivities.
The 6’0, 215-pound Abram entered his senior season at Mississippi State as a potential mid-round draft pick. After a stellar year, he finds himself hovering in the area of rounds one and two depending on his athletic testing at the NFL Combine. The former junior college safety began his college career with the Georgia Bulldogs before finishing his final two years of eligibility with Mississippi’s version of the bulldogs. He brings that bulldog trait to the playing field.
Described as a “throwback” safety, Abram’s game is passionate and relentless, attributes the Packers’ defense could benefit from. He brings a thump to any and all ballcarriers and learned to harness that physicality enough to better avoid personal foul penalties as a senior. Although his aggressiveness has led to blown coverages on occasion, notably a long touchdown pass against Iowa in the Outback Bowl, Abram improved greatly with experience. A major issue of the Packers’ deep half of the secondary was tackling this past season and Abram would shore up that area of weakness immediately as one of the draft’s best tacklers from the safety position.
On top of his intensity, Abram has been a playmaker, totaling 14 tackles for a loss, five sacks, three forced fumbles, and two interceptions over his two seasons in Starkville. He was in position for several more interceptions in 2018, coming up just shy on a few occasions. But when the Bulldogs needed a third down stop or a sure tackle on a screen pass, Abram usually came through and showed the ability to shed through blockers on the outside. For a team like Green Bay, which tied for 29th in the NFL in takeaways in 2018, Abram’s ability to find the ball would be a welcome addition.
Abram’s versatility may be of most significant interest to Green Bay. In recent seasons, the Packers have employed safeties at inside linebacker on passing downs to gain an advantage in coverage. His physicality would be a great fit in the box for the Packers, especially against tight ends. Green Bay could also line Abram up in the slot, where he has been a dangerous blitzer as a senior and held his own against top receivers. Against Alabama, Misssissippi State used Abram in the slot against Jerry Jeudy and he held the Crimson Tide’s standout to just six catches for 45 yards, his second-lowest output of the season. Abram’s ability to line up in man coverage in the slot and outside when needed, in addition to safety and potentially linebacker, would give the Packers the tremendous versatility they covet.
Abram’s play in 2018 has made him a surefire pick in the draft’s first two days and many are beginning to take notice.
I'm rating Johnathan Abram as a mid-1st rounder. Teams like Washington and Carolina (if they don't re-sign their current starters before March) should look at his toughness, athleticism and leadership qualities as a big boost to their D's. If he lasts past that, it's a bargain.— Chad Reuter (@chad_reuter) January 1, 2019
I’m at the airport waiting to board a flight & studying Miss State safety Johnathan Abram...Really fun player to watch. Big, explosive and athletic dude. Happy New Year! pic.twitter.com/a7L4RZW23q— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) January 1, 2019
Abram is fun to watch on tape but what makes him unique is his mindset. Immediately after accepting his @seniorbowl invite, he reached out to ask me what he needs to work on to improve his game. I’m sharing this because NFL teams need to know that’s how he’s wired. https://t.co/AslvurTjkF— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) December 29, 2018
While Abram still has coverage skills he needs to work on, a good showing at the Combine could vault him into late first-round consideration and the territory of Green Bay’s second pick of the round. A very vocal team player with leadership skills and experience in the SEC, Abram would bring a swagger to the game that the Packers need now more than ever. While he may not be the free roamer that the Packers must also address at safety, he is the kind of in-the-box safety that they hoped Josh Jones and Kentrell Brice would become.
Green Bay could look many directions with its first-round selections, but Abram could fill several schematic positions as soon as next year and provide much-needed stability at safety for years to come.