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2020 Position Battle: Johnathan Abram is destined for big things and Raiders add depth at safety

Raiders General Manager Mike Mayock and Head Coach Jon Gruden want to see more forced turnovers this year, considering the team has failed to finish the season on the positive side of the turnover ratio for a few years now.

Turnovers come from creating pressure at the line of scrimmage, forcing quarterbacks to make ill-advised throws, which ballhawks in the secondary can swoop in and pick off. The defensive line received some upgrades this offseason, but what did the Raiders front office do to shore up the back end?

Let's break down the new additions at defensive back.

Previous Position Battles:

New Faces

Jordan Brown

Ken Crawley

Damarious Randall

Jeff Heath

Returning Players

Johnathan Abram

Lamarcus Joyner

Erik Harris

Dallin Leavitt

Position Review

The big free-agent signing in the secondary last year was Lamarcus Joyner, signing a four-year deal with the team. Gruden and defensive coordinator Paul Guenther were thrilled with the addition because of Joyner's championship pedigree and veteran leadership. The former Los Angeles Ram experienced some struggles, but a major contributing factor was the lack of consistency around him, complicating the line of communication.

In 2019, the Raiders experimented with a variety of defensive back combinations but were never able to fully cement a starting duo.

Johnathan Abram was expected to play an important role as a first-round pick, but a shoulder injury derailed his rookie season. Abram's injury forced Guenther to weigh every conceivable option. Erik Harris starting in 14 games came as a surprise to many, but over those 14 games, he proved he's capable of handling the starting role, totaling three interceptions and eight passes defensed.

This season, the Raiders will need to experiment with the group once again, but it seems like Mayock has a pretty good idea of what the last line of defense will look like.

"What I believe is that [Damarious Randall] could be a wonderful complement to John Abram," Mayock shared with ESPN Las Vegas Tuesday. "We're going to pair [Abram] with Damarious and Erik Harris, and we think Damarious can bring some athletic ability where he can drop down and cover the slot. So, we think there's a potential pairing there that could be exciting, but don't forget about Erik Harris, he's played some good football for us. We signed Jeff Heath who started for the Dallas Cowboys, so again, this is all about creating competition throughout our team and especially on defense."

Jeff Heath and Damarious Randall have been overlooked by much of the media this offseason, with most of the attention going to linebackers Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski. Heath and Randall may have entered the league with different expectations (Heath an undrafted free agent, Randall a first-round pick), but the duo has 110 starts between them.

Randall's athleticism helped him garner first-round attention in 2015 and it's one of the main reasons why Mayock thinks he'll be a nice complement to the hard-hitting Abram. Even though Mayock alluded to them being the assumed starters, we may see someone else earn more minutes this season.

Overall, the defense has been improved vastly and it'll be interesting to watch the new-look Raiders in 2020.

Bold Prediction

It didn't take long for Johnathan Abram to become a fan favorite during HBO's Hard Knocks and it continued with a prolonged media tour throughout the season; however, in 2020, the former first-round pick will be making headlines because of his play on the field.

The former Mississippi State Bulldog plays the game with such passion and vigor it's contagious. I firmly believe Abram will spark the Raiders' new defense in 2020 and become one of the league's best players at the position by the end of the year. Make room Jamal Adams because No. 24 is coming for the throne.

View photos of the Las Vegas Raiders safeties heading into 2020 Training Camp. The group features Johnathan Abram, Erik Harris, Lamarcus Joyner, and free-agent additions Damarious Randall and Jeff Heath.

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