HENDERSON, Nev. — The Las Vegas Raiders have waived former first-round pick Johnathan Abram, who had been a starter at strong safety since being drafted out of Mississippi State in 2019.
But with a new regime taking over the Raiders in general manager Dave Ziegler and coach Josh McDaniels, Abram lost his starting job in Week 8 this season to Duron Harmon. Abram’s special teams snaps started to go up, and he was rumored to be shopped at the trade deadline, but to no avail.
Abram, the No. 27 overall pick in 2019 and the third of the Raiders’ three first-rounders that year, entered the league with the reputation of a fearsome hitter, though he often doled out friendly-fire hits to teammates. His NFL career began with a season-ending shoulder injury suffered in the first half of his first game.
He was a featured player in HBO’s “Hard Knocks” training camp show as a rookie, famously debating quarterback Derek Carr on the proper pronunciation of “salmon” during a team dinner, and was a favorite of former coach Jon Gruden and then-GM Mike Mayock.
Abram’s on-field production also failed to live up to the first-round expectations.
According to NFL Next Gen Stats, of the 121 players who have logged at least 1,000 coverage snaps since 2019, Abram has allowed the second-highest completion percentage as a nearest defender.
Abram also raised eyebrows by wearing No. 24 for the Raiders, digits made famous in the franchise by Hall of Fame defensive backs Willie Brown and Charles Woodson.
He was also an outspoken player in the locker room but in recent seasons was more subdued. In training camp this year, he said he had matured with age as he prepped for a new defensive scheme.
“I mean, it always takes work,” he said at the time, after his fifth-year option had been declined by Las Vegas. “I had different coordinators throughout high school and college and up until this point now, so just spending time in the playbook and watching the film and seeing how [defensive coordinator Patrick Graham] utilizes and applying the calls from the old system to the new system, just changing the language and pretty much that’s it.”
Abram, who turned 26 last month, has three career interceptions and 11 passes defensed in 36 career games, 34 starts. He also had 255 tackles, with 9.5 stuffs and a fumble recovery.
With Abram’s release, only 11 of the 23 players drafted in three years under Mayock, including two of six first-rounders, are still with the team.