2019 Position Battle: Safeties

This position group will be one of the more discussed units through training camp because of its new additions.

During free agency, the Raiders made it a priority to go get a versatile leader to man the safeties room by signing former Los Angeles Ram Lamarcus Joyner. The 28-year-old brings a lot of experience and versatility to Paul Guenther’s system, and the expectation is that he’ll be able to make an immediate impact while mentoring some of the younger safeties on the roster.

First-round pick Johnathan Abram has already established himself as an outspoken individual in the Raiders locker room, and while he’s aware he’s a rookie, he’s certainly not afraid to show he’s capable of a leadership role.

These are just a couple of storylines that will be highlighted during training camp, but before we get to Napa, let’s take a look at the safeties position battle.

Familiar Faces:

Erik Harris

Karl Joseph

Dallin Leavitt

New Faces:

Johnathan Abram

Lamarcus Joyner

Jordan Richards

Curtis Riley

Battle to watch:

EP: This one for me is pretty straightforward – who are the starters?

After a strong finish to 2018, does Karl Joseph hold onto one of the starting jobs on the backend of the Raiders defense, or will someone else have a productive training camp and make a bid to be the starter for Paul Guenther?

There certainly are a plethora of new faces looking to make a positive impression in their first year as Raiders, most noticeably rookie safety Jonathan Abram.

Selected at No. 27 overall, Abram has all the tools to be a quality NFL safety, and he’s a player who I can’t wait to see once the pads come on at camp.

Erik Harris has shown year after year that he’s a valuable asset on special teams, but with a career-high two interceptions a year ago, could the veteran defensive back find himself in a starting role in 2019?

Don’t forget about new addition Lamarcus Joyner either – throughout his time in the league, he’s shown the type of versatility that Guenther and Head Coach Jon Gruden covet, so I could see him being a player that sees a lot of action going forward.

The point I’m making is this; there are a ton of capable players in that meeting room, and time will tell which duo earns the starting responsibilities.

KM: Another group with plenty of talent across the board.

The Raiders have rotated through safeties frequently in recent memory, but it seems the team has finally pieced together a group that could last. During free agency, the team lured Lamarcus Joyner away from the Los Angeles Rams, and followed it up by drafting Johnathan Abram with the No. 27 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Those are two key additions to the roster, and they’ll certainly have an impact on how the starting lineup shakes out. I think it’s safe to assume that Joyner will be featured in the majority of Paul Guenther’s defensive packages, but it’s the other safety position that’s up for debate.

Karl Joseph has the experience – entering his fourth season in the league – but he’s had his fair share of highs and lows. Towards the end of 2018, it was clear Joseph was not only grasping Guenther’s system, but thriving in it as well. I’m confident the former West Virginia Mountaineer can build on a strong second half to last season, but he’ll have to compete with the hungry and determined Abram who’s already taking ownership as a leader on the team.

Previewing the Raiders safeties as we approach 2019 Training Camp. Rookie first-round draft pick Johnathan Abram adds to the group of veterans featuring Karl Joseph and is joined by new addition Lamarcus Joyner.

Storyline to follow:

EP: What role does Karl Joseph play on this defense in 2019?

After a slow start to his first year in Paul Guenther’s defense, the hard-hitting safety started the final eight games for the Silver and Black, totaling 44 tackles as well an interception.

The final month or so of the season was arguably the best we’ve seen No. 42 look in a Raiders uniform, and if Joseph wants to keep a firm hold on his starting job this year – in a contract season no less – that’s the type of football he’ll have to play on a regular basis.

That said, the NFL is the ultimate “what have you done for me lately” league, and with no shortage of new talent in the safety room (looking at you, Johnathan Abram), Karl Joseph is going to have to earn his reps every single practice at training camp.

2019 is going to be a pivotal season for the former West Virginia Mountaineer, and I’m very intrigued by how he responds, starting once the team touches down in Napa.

KM: I think you could go a couple of different ways here, but I think the most intriguing storyline will be how Guenther utilizes Joyner’s versatility.

Joyner can rush the quarterback, matchup with the best tight ends, and play nickel; he’s got all the skills to be the Raiders’ go-to playmaker. There’s still plenty of questions, though, regarding how Guenther will maximize the Miami native’s skill set. Will he keep him in the nickel? How often will he blitz?

My hope is that we’ll be able to solve a little bit more by the end of training camp. No coach is ever going to reveal his grand scheme to the world, but I just need Guenther to unveil a little bit because I’m genuinely excited about the defense in 2019.

Keep an eye on…

EP: Johnathan Abram.

The hope for No. 24 is that he is the type of player who steps in Day 1 and immediately makes the backend of the Raiders defense a whole lot scarier than it was in 2018.

Young Mr. Abram is definitely not the type of dude who lacks confidence, and he’s been outspoken – in a good way – about the benefits that he can bring to the secondary, even as a rookie.

It’s been quite some time since the Silver and Black have had a game-wrecking type safety patrolling deep, and if Abram is who we think he is, that’s a role that will be filled in a hurry.

He’s a guy who you have to be excited about heading into camp.

KM: Curtis Riley is going to be my guy to keep an eye on.

The soon-to-be 27-year-old had a standout season with the New York Giants in 2018. Riley totaled four interceptions, one touchdown, 75 tackles, and five passes defensed while starting in all 16 games. The former Fresno State Bulldog – I’m sure Derek Carr is happy to have him in the locker room – didn’t get a lot of playing time during his two-year stint with the Tennessee Titans, but proved he can play in the NFL last season.

Riley has some competition in front of him if he wants to crack the starting lineup, but I think he can serve an important role this season. He’s been the unspoken member of the secondary and I think he’s going to open some eyes during training camp.

Question you want answered by the end of training camp:

EP: Going back to Abram just for a second – will he show enough in camp to earn a starting role on Paul Guenther’s defense?

As one of the Raiders trio of first-round picks this year, much is expected of the former Mississippi State Bulldog, and I can’t wait to see him go to work.

KM: Who is Paul Guenther going to start?

As I mentioned earlier, I think we can assume that Joyner will be one of the starting safeties, but we don’t know who his running mate will be just yet.

My hope is that by the end of camp we have a clear idea of who the second starting safety is, but that might be an ongoing discussing this season.

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