The NFL Draft is behind us, rookie drafts are taking place, and as dynasty managers, we are looking ahead to the upcoming season. In our Dynasty Rookie Post-Draft Update series, we break down all the incoming fantasy-relevant rookies, looking at their profiles and where they fit. The basis of the rookie profile involves the usage of STORM analysis, focusing on five key components: Situation, Talent, Opportunity, Risk, and Market.
This year’s running back class was promoted as one of the most talented classes ever. We might have been proven wrong during the NFL Draft, as most of the running backs fell late into the draft’s third day. This could have been due to the market being flooded with good running backs, and teams thought it was a better use of their capital to pivot to other positions and get their running back later. Another theory is that this running back was not as good as the fantasy industry promoted during the off-season.
One running back who fell in the NFL Draft was Israel Abanikanda. After a very productive junior season and posting one of the best athletic profiles in the class, many people projected him to get drafted on day two. That obviously didn’t happen since he fell to the fifth round to the Jets. On top of that, his dynasty stock is in flux because he now shares the backfield with Breece Hall, one of the top talents in the league at running back.
Can Abanikanda overcome the odds stacked against or is this another late-round running back who will collect dust on the backend of dynasty rosters?
Name: Israel Abanikanda
Position: Running Back
Pro Team: New York Jets
College Team: Pittsburgh
Draft Status: Round five, 143rd overall
One of the biggest surprises in college football last year was the emergence of Abanikanda. He closed out his three-year collegiate career with his first season with over 1,000 yards rushing while crossing the goal line 21 times. He was productive and one of the most explosive running backs in college football, producing 19 carries of 15 yards or more.
Considering that he ran a 4.45 40-yard dash while weighing 216 pounds on his pro day, you would figure he was a lock to get selected in the first two days of the draft. However, that didn’t happen; he fell to the fifth round to the New York Jets.
Not only did he fall in the draft, but now he is playing behind Breece Hall, one of the top young running backs in the league. This situation caps his upside, and for him to provide consistent fantasy production, attrition would have to, unfortunately, break his way.
Israel Abanikanda Pro Day Results:
Weight: 216 pounds
Arm: 32 inches
40-Yard Dash: 4.41 seconds
10-Yard Split: N/A
Vertical Jump: 41 inches
Broad Jump: N/A
Three Cone: N/A
Abanikanda demonstrated good size-adjusted athleticism and burst on his pro day. He had one of the best athletic profiles in this year’s draft class. His numbers make sense to what we saw from him on tape. He has the speed to pull away from the opposing defense and the burst to jet through the running lane and into the second level of the defense. His athleticism should be considered a positive that could help him be productive when he gets the opportunity to see the field.
His size is right at the sweet spot. He has the size to handle a more significant workload while maintaining his athleticism. His weight is at the 59th percentile among running back prospects, so he’s not too big or too small for the position. This is very encouraging because when he does get the chance to receive the bulk of the touches, we know his size won’t be an issue.
Courtesy of 4for4
Breece Hall is the big elephant in the room here. We all know he is one of the top talents in the league at running back. He’s returning from an ACL injury, but we expect him to do big things during his career. From what we saw last year, I doubt you can find anyone arguing that Abanikanda will come in and steal his job.
Michael Carter is a fourth-round pick from the 2021 NFL Draft. He has two more seasons left on his rookie contract. Just by reading the tea leaves here, the Jets will not resign him once his contract expires. He is a solid NFL running back but doesn’t lend the upside that many NFL coaches want as a runner. He’s smaller, and his size-adjusted athleticism is well below average. The team only has a fourth-round pick invested in him, so the sunk cost isn’t going to prevent the organization from making any moves in the future.
Zonovan Knight held it down last season when injuries plagued the running back group. During weeks 12-14 last year, he averaged 15.3 PPR fantasy points per game as a legit fantasy starter. He’s in good graces with the team due to his commendable performance and will receive an opportunity to compete this off-season.
Things could get murky for Abanikanda in this backfield if he doesn’t show up and play to his potential in camp. Considering what the team already has on the roster, they must have thought he was more talented than his draft capital and thought they were getting a tremendous discount. Abanikanda is talented enough to usurp Knight and Carter if he gets down to business and taps into his upside in camp.
We should see him work his way into the RB2 role behind Hall over time. If something happens to Hall in the future, there’s a chance we see a rotation between Carter, Knight, and Abanikanda. Whoever has the hot hand during that time might be the most fantasy relevant. This offense could have more opportunities than what many dynasty gamers are projecting. If you limit the expectation to spot starts or transitory production, depending on roster size, he could be a good hedge as a dart throw as the backend of your roster from year to year.
Courtesy of Sports-Reference
Abanikanda blew up during his junior season. He was one of the top running backs in college football. He had 100-yard performances against Tennessee, Western Michigan, Rhode Island, Virginia Tech, Louisville, North Carolina, Virginia, Duke, and Miami. The junior running back averaged 2.67 yards after contact per attempt.
The biggest red flag in his production profile is his receiving production. He caught just 38 passes in three seasons. This indicates that there are limitations in the passing game. Running backs don’t receive a large workload as a receiver out of the backfield tends to do the same at the level.
Another red flag we see with his production profile is he only has one season of production. In his first two seasons, he shared the backfield with other running backs. The fact he couldn’t show up and take over right out of high school might mean there might be a transition process that he has to overcome when it comes to transitioning to the next level of competition.
Courtesy of MFL Rookie ADP
We are seeing him get drafted at the tail end of the third round with an ADP of 36.23 as the RB11. Sometimes he gets drafted sooner in the third round, and sometimes he is available in the fourth round. Unless you are drafting with his roommates, I doubt you will see him get drafted in the second round of rookie drafts.
The ADP is telling us the market doesn’t want to spend on a player who falls deep into the third day of the draft while backing up one of the best running backs in the league. There’s no reason to take the gamble when you know his production will be limited due to his situation.
Courtesy of DLF’s Trade Analyzer
The dynasty trade analyzer has Abanikanda valued as a 4.03 rookie draft pick. This feels right, considering his draft capital and situation. If you wanted to try and trade him and make a quick profit, some suggested players are Tyler Allgeier, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Allen Lazard, and Donovan Peoples-Jones. The trade analyzer is telling us the same story as the ADP. The fact that he fell in the draft and is sitting behind one of the best running backs in the league makes it hard for dynasty gamers to invest premium rookie draft capital in him.