There’s a player in every draft who comes out of nowhere during their final season and gains a lot of value. Last year it was Kenneth Walker. This year you could make the case that it was Israel Abanikanda. Prior to his 2022 breakout, he was an unknown running back prospect on a team transitioning from the Kenny Pickett era.
Now Abanikanda is being valued as a top talent in this year’s draft class. It’s time to take a deeper look to see if the young running back can be worth the investment for dynasty gamers in the near future.
Coming out of high school, Abanikanda was ranked as the 14th-best running back in the 2020 recruiting class. He was rated a three-star recruit and received offers from 27 different collegiate programs. Some of those were Tennessee, Michigan, Notre Dame, and Wisconsin.
Courtesy of 247 Sports.
During The Opening Regional in 2019, he ran a 4.50-second 40-yard dash while weighing 191 pounds. He also posted a 39.10 vertical. During his senior season, he rushed for 1,350 yards and tallied 25 total touchdowns. He also played defensive back and racked up 30 tackles and two interceptions. Abanikanda was also a track star. He collected two gold medals at the New York City’s Mayor Cup Race in the 100 meters.
Courtesy of Sports Reference.
His freshman season was almost nonexistent. He scored his first and only touchdown in the team’s opener against Austin Peay. He logged carries in six games. His most productive game was against Louisville where he carried the ball nine times for 41 yards.
After getting his feet wet the previous year, Abanikanda saw his role increase during his sophomore season. This was the season Kenny Pickett and Jordan Addison combined forces to win the ACC Championship. Abanikanda led the team in 2021 with seven rushing touchdowns while rushing for 651 yards. He posted his first and only 100-yard game against Virginia Tech when he carried the rock 21 times for 140 yards. He also increased his role in the passing game by catching 24 balls for 197 yards and one touchdown.
Everything came together during his junior season when he blew up rushing for 1,431 yards and led the nation with 20 rushing touchdowns. He had nine 100-yard games. His most notable performance came against Virginia Tech when he rushed for 320 yards and six touchdowns. Abanikanda was very explosive in the passing game by averaging 12.7 yards after the catch per reception. He also averaged 2.67 yards after contact per attempt. His 2,177 career rushing yards rank 14th all-time among Pitt running backs.
- Has good size-adjusted speed
- Very aggressive running style
- Falls forward at the point of contact
- Always the hammer and not the nail
- Will slip past arm tackles
- Has the size to be a steady three-down back
- Is a threat to churn out chunks of yards when he sees the open field
- Has a very patient approach to the line of scrimmage
- Will maximize opportunities by finding cutback lanes
- Needs to work on chaining together moves in the open field to be more elusive
- Lateral agility needs improvement
- Route tree is limited
Courtesy of Mock Draft Database.
I can bet my life’s savings that he won’t get selected in the first round. There’s a small chance gets drafted in the second round. Unless he falls on his face during the Scouting Combine, it’s hard to see him fall to the sixth and seventh rounds. With that being said, he likely gets drafted somewhere between the third and fifth rounds of the draft.
Since he has a track background and posted a 39.10-inch vertical in high school, I bet he does well at the combine. If that’s the case, then there’s a good chance he gets selected somewhere on day two. I wouldn’t be surprised if he falls to the early part of the fourth round since the class is stacked with talent at the running back position which could cause a few players to fall a few spots down the board. Since the supply of talented running backs are higher than usual and the demand for running backs will be typical compared to previous seasons.
The mock draft database has him on average getting drafted in the fifth round. This seems realistic. However, this is a collection of mock drafts and there isn’t a large sample size of mock drafts that go a full seven rounds. We will see more seven-round mock drafts as we get further into draft season.
His rookie draft value will be dependent on draft capital and landing spot. If he gets drafted in the top 100, then he will be an easy second-round option in rookie drafts. If he goes to a high-powered offense, then he will creep into the top portion of the second round and possibly into the first round. If he falls in the NFL Draft then he could fall to the third round or in rookie drafts.
Considering his value is dependent on how the NFL values him in the draft, his long-term player value will be up in the air until we find out when he gets drafted. He’s a talent that can deliver production if he gets the opportunity to see a large share of the touches in his career. We should expect his average draft position to shoot up if this happens.
Another thing to consider is the entire landscape at the running back position. There are a lot of veteran running backs who are in ambiguous situations and could fall in value during the next 12-24 months. This could allow a running back like Abanikanda to hold value longer than usual considering his upside and the increased odds that he outperforms some of the veteran running backs in the league.
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