Our NFL rookie profile series continues with the analysis of 2023 NFL Draft Prospect Israel Abanikanda, RB from Pittsburgh. We will continue to provide you with these in-depth rookie profiles and a ton of other fantasy football rookie analyses right up through the NFL Draft. Stay tuned, and stay ahead of your league.
How should we evaluate Israel Abanikanda’s college career? What is he capable of at the next level?
Israel Abanikanda is one of the heavier running backs in this year’s rookie class but has track-star speed and tremendous vision. An NFL team could see him as their three-down running back of the future, but that tier of running backs is crowded this season. Will an NFL team covet Abanikanda with a day-two pick, or will he be an afterthought that won’t hear his name until Saturday?
We’ll dig into it with Israel Abanikanda here and determine his value in dynasty fantasy football leagues.
Israel Abanikanda, “Izzy” for short, grew up in Brooklyn to Nigerian parents. His father, Saldi, was a collegiate sprinter at Georgia Tech in the 80s, and his older brother Michael played defensive back at Temple and Buffalo. Izzy started playing football at just four years old and was a gold medal sprinter in New York City Mayor’s Cup Race. He was named the New York Gatorade Player of the Year in 2019. A three-star recruit out of Abraham Lincoln High School, Abanikanda decided to go to Pittsburgh over offers from Duke, Purdue, Rutgers, Syracuse, Tennessee, and Virginia Tech.
Courtesy of Sports Reference.
Abanikanda became Pittsburgh’s starter in 2021, Kenny Pickett and Jordan Addison’s final year with the team. With talent like that, Pittsburgh and offensive coordinator Mark Whipple mainly focused on the passing game, and the running game took a back seat. Abanikanda also split time with Vincent Davis in the backfield.
In 2022, the Panthers committed to the running game and leaned on Abanikanda for their offensive production. He went off for 1,431 yards and 20 rushing touchdowns, leading Pitt to a 9-4 record. He led the ACC in rush attempts (239), rushing yards, and rushing touchdowns. He led the NCAA in rushing touchdowns and finished 14th in rushing yards nationwide for the 2022 season. Rushing touchdowns tend to be a statistic that translates well to production at the NFL level, so we love to see Abanikanda’s nose for the end zone.
Abanikanda also returned 19 kicks for the Panthers over his college career, highlighted by a 98-yard kick-return touchdown in 2021. He averaged 22.8 yards a return.
Courtesy of NFL.com.
Abanikanda did not participate in the NFL Combine because of a hamstring injury. He said, “I had a little minor hamstring injury during my training, so me and my trainer, my agent, we talked about it, and I’d rather be better prepared for everyone to see what I can do at the pro day.”
Israel Abanikanda is a RB prospect in the 2023 draft class. He scored a 9.61 RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 69 out of 1722 RB from 1987 to 2023. https://t.co/Cr89zTCS0N #RAS pic.twitter.com/Ack1xlEKI8
— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 7, 2023
He performed well at Pitt’s Pro Day, running a 4.45 and earning an elite speed grade from RAS. He is on the shorter side for a running back, but he’s big and strong enough to be an early down back in the NFL. Lance Zierlien of NFL.com gave him a prospect score of 6.24, the fourth highest in the class behind Bijan Robinson, Jahymyr Gibbs, and Zach Evans. That score from last year’s draft is higher than Brian Robinson, Dameon Pierce, and James Cook.
The game film below is from Abanikanda’s penultimate game at PITT. He ran the ball 17 times for 113 and a touchdown.
Check out more film on Israel Abanikanda’s DLF Profile.
The game film above is from Abanikanda’s penultimate game at PITT. He ran the ball 17 times for 113 and a touchdown. Abanikanda does an excellent job in the zone-running scheme at finding the open lane to run through. He’s patient in the backfield, sometimes waiting too long for the lane to open up and getting some negative yard runs. Once the lane does open up, he gets small, hugs the ball, and racks up the yardage. He has a great ability to run the ball between the tackles and be a grinder running back, but he also has the tremendous speed to get outside.
He has excellent vision as a running back, often finding the cut-back lane and taking it to the house, as he did on the touchdown in the Duke game. He has some good stiff arms and jukes to shed tacklers and make them miss.
He isn’t the most powerful running back, so he can get stood up at times, running into the pile or at the goal line. He sometimes struggles in pass protection but does pretty well as a pass catcher.
Courtesy of NFL Mock Draft Database.
Abanikanda’s stock has risen this offseason as the NFL and mock drafters try to determine where these middle-round running backs will go. We see it every year, where a running back with no pre-draft hype goes on day two while hyped-up running backs fall to day three. Day two draft capital will be significant for Abanikanda’s dynasty value. The way things are trending, he could even go up into the second round.
It’s tough to project a team where a middle-round running back could go because almost every team could add an extra running back to their rotation. The image above has Abankanda’s consensus landing spot as the Bills, and that would be a nice team for his fantasy value. He’d probably compete with Damien Harris for early-down work in his rookie year but could earn the role long-term while James Cook is the pass-catching back. The Eagles certainly could use another running back; that would also be an excellent spot for him to go.
Courtesy of DLF One Quarterback ADP.
Abanikanda’s current startup ADP is in the early 11th round for 12-team, one-quarterback leagues. He’s grouped with fellow rookie running backs Kendre Miller, Tank Bigsby, and Roschon Johnson. It seems like that is the spot to take a chance on a rookie running back that could find a good home in the NFL. Ironically, he’s a few spots ahead of Kenneth Gainwell and Rashaad Penny, the two backs he’d be sharing a backfield with if he goes to the Eagles, as I suggested earlier.
In Rookie Draft ADP, Abanikanda is going 23rd overall and as the 11th running back off the board. I’ve frequently taken him in the second round in recent mock rookie drafts. I like him a little better right now than Roschon Johnson, Kendre Miller, Sean Tucker, Zach Evans, and Tank Bigsby, who are all going right before Abanikanda.
I really like what I’ve seen in this study on Israel Abanikanda. I came into this with mixed feelings, but I’m impressed with his tape and his speed. He seems to be an outstanding value right now in rookie drafts, but draft capital and landing spot will be necessary for all of these mid-tier running backs.
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