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PRO 2023 Rookie Spotlight: Israel Abanikanda, RB Pitt

Rookie Spotlight: Israel Abanikanda, RB Pitt
Height: 5-11
Weight: 216
Hands: 8 1/4″
Arm: 32″
40 yard dash: 4.46* (adjusted from 4.41 at pro day)
2023 Age: 21
NFL Comparison: Isiah Pacheco, Ronald Jones

Offensive Market Share Metrics (Final Season)

Rushing Attempts: 48%
Receptions: 5%
Scrimmage Yards: 30%
Scrimmage TDs: 49%
Total Production Percentage: 33%

As a high school prospect: Class of 2020; 3-star

– One of the nation’s most prolific breakout running backs in the 2022 season (97th percentile dominator rating)
– Bonafide size/speed combo
– Well-rounded set of production-profile markers from 2022
– Elite explosive testing; best vertical of entire 2023 draft class (41″)
– If he gets into open space, most pursuing players will have trouble catching him
– Went over 110 rushing yards in all but two 2022 contests
– Has shown the ability to absolutely take over games (320 yards rushing and 6 TDs vs. Virginia Tech in 2022)

– Did not break out until his final year in college (junior-2022)
– Is not as elusive in forcing missed tackles as you’d like out of a size/speed combo of his stature
– Straight-line runner who doesn’t display much lateral agility or ankle/hip flexion in cuts
– Not much of a run-mix at Pitt; mostly zone experience
– Not used as much as you would like to see in the passing game, drops too many passes
– Small hands
– Needs work in pass protection
– 30% of his 2022 rushing TDs came versus non-Power 5 opposition

Scouting Notes: Israel “Izzy” Abanikanda broke out in a major way during his final season at Pitt (junior-early declare) in an offense that lost its two most elite weapons from the season prior (QB Kenny Pickett and WR Jordan Addison) to the NFL draft and the transfer portal respectively. In stepped Abanikanda to carry the load and become the driving force of the Panthers offense. One of the nation’s top running backs statistically, Abanikanda represents a size/speed combo that would interest anyone when coupled with the proven production. He went for over 110 yards rushing in all but two contests in 2022 while also showing the ability to take over football games — most notably versus Virginia Tech, where his absurd 320 yards and 6 TDs stand alone as an inarguable feather in his cap. Per PFF, Abanikanda in 2022 was 18th in PFF rushing grade, 13th in rushes over 10 yards (38), 17th in designed rushing attempts over 15 yards (19), 6th in rushing yardage on designed attempts more than 15 yards (631) and 15th in total first downs (73). For all these accolades, there are certainly holes to poke in Abanikanda’s game. He’s a straight-line runner in the mold of Isiah Pacheco who can hit the hole violently, and when he does so while staying clean, he’s off to the races. He doesn’t display the lateral agility to create on his own when plays break down, however, and is not as elusive on tape as you would imagine based on the gaudy production and big, fast physical profile. It’s really only one season of this production we have to fall back on, as well, as he did not break out until his final season in college (albeit a junior, early declare season). Abanikanda had the big game against Va Tech, but he also had a lot of production from 2022 come against non-Power 5 opponents (30% of his 2022 rushing TDs came versus non-Power 5 opposition). Abanikanda has small hands and drops too many passes. Thankfully, this attribute has not hindered him much in the ball security department. He needs work in pass-protection, and when adding all these things up, it makes for a profile that an NFL team will certainly see big opportunity in, but it will take some time to harness that potential into a well-rounded back who can be on the field for all three downs, should that potential outcome be on the menu at some point for Abanikanda.

Fantasy Outlook: Abanikanda is a classic upside-type of fantasy pick that it will be perfectly fine to consider in pre-NFL draft dynasty leagues once some of the more premiere options are off the table around the end of Round 2 in 12-team, 1QB leagues. With the right landing spot, and with development in certain aspects of his game, Abanikanda could certainly be a very good fantasy asset, given his size/speed profile, his athletic measurables and his undeniable one year of elite production at the college level — especially if a team gives up Day 2 draft capital to acquire him.

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