2023 NFL Draft prospect profile – Israel Abanikanda, RB, Pitt5 min read
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By: Chris Pflum
Why aren’t more people talking about Abanikanda?
The New York Giants need to add weapons to their offense for 2023. And while that’s generally understood to mean “wide receiver”, they could do with more depth all over their offense.
Even if they re-sign Saquon Barkley, he saw his production drop as his workload increased. Adding another explosive playmaker to the backfield should certainly in consideration for Joe Schoen and the Giants.
Pittsburgh’s Israel Abanikanda emerged as one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in college football in 2022. Generally speaking, unless he was stopped behind the line of scrimmage, there was a good chance he was going to run for a touchdown. The Giants could certainly use more touchdowns in 2023, and a “pony package” boasting both Barkley and a weapon like Abanikanda could be incredibly dangerous.
Will Abanikanda land on the Giants’ radar?
Prospect: Israel Abanikanda (2)
Games Watched: vs. West Virginia (2022), vs. Tennessee (2022), vs. Virginia Tech (2022), vs. North Carolina (2022), vs. Miami (2022)
Red Flags: Undisclosed injury (late 2022)
Weight: 215 pounds
Games Played: 30
Yards (YPC): 2,177 (5.6 per carry)
Yards (YPC): 354 (9.3 per catch)
Total Touchdowns (rushing/receiving): 31 (28 rushing, 3 receiving)
Games Played: 11
Yards (YPC): 1,431 (6.0 per carry)
Yards (YPC): 146 (12.2 per catch)
Total Touchdowns (rushing/receiving): 21 (20 rushing, 1 receiving)
Best: Vision, contact balance, quickness, versatility, yards after contact, big play ability
Worst: Power, pass protection
Projection: A starting running back with scheme versatility
Pittsburgh running back Israel Abanikanda is an athletic and instinctive runner with a great blend of quickness, contact balance, and vision to play the position at the NFL level.
Abanikanda only has one season of real production, but he is coming off of an incredibly productive junior season. The 2022 season saw him produce 21 touchdowns and an average of 6.3 yards per touch. Abanikanda is a versatile runner who is capable of running out of inside and outside zone, and man-gap blocking schemes. He also ran from the shotgun as well as out of the “I” formation, and was split out as a slot and wide receiver as well.
Abanikanda runs with great tempo and pacing behind the line of scrimmage, allowing his blockers to get in position. He has great vision and is able to anticipate defenders at the first, second, and third levels. He shows an instinctive understanding of how to alter his speed, stride tempo, and frequency to manipulate defenders. Abanikanda frequently uses his path behind the line of scrimmage to move defenders out of position before suddenly cutting and exploding through his intended running lane.
He has great quickness and agility, and has the ability to drop his hips to change his center of gravity before making a cut. Abanikanda has excellent contact balance and is able to run through arm tackles and shoulder checks, as well as run through the occasional stumble. His vision, quickness, agility, and low center of gravity allow him to turn sure hits into glancing blows.
He also does a great job of anticipating contact and adjusting to allow himself to pick up yards after contact. All told, Abanikanda’s vision, balance, and athleticism make him a very difficult player to bring down once he crosses the line of scrimmage. He’s a
Abanikanda’s agility, explosiveness and open-field speed make him a big-play threat whenever he is able to find a sliver of daylight.
While Abanikanda is a versatile, explosive, and dangerous runner, he isn’t without limitations. He lacks great play strength and shouldn’t be considered a short-yardage runner. He isn’t a weak runner, but he just doesn’t have the power to push the pile between the tackles, nor should he be considered a “battering ram” of a running back. Abanikanda can be brought down relatively easily if a defensive line or linebacker can meet him behind the line of scrimmage.
He is a willing pass protector, but needs to improve that area of his game. Abanikanda understands his role in pass protection and doesn’t shy away from defenders, but he also doesn’t come up to attack them. He isn’t a particularly stout pass protector and is more of a nuisance than anything else for defenders.
Teams may also need to work with Abanikanda as a receiver. He flashes some upside as a receiver, but wasn’t used as one very often. He was mostly used as a target on screen plays or as a check-down option, and only averaged 12 catches per season.
Overall Grade: 7.5
Pittsburgh running back Israel Abanikanda projects as a starting running back with scheme versatility at the NFL level.
Abanikanda is an incredibly dangerous runner who needs to be stopped behind the line of scrimmage. Otherwise he’s a big-play threat with the chance to score nearly every time he touches the ball. Abanikanda is able to run between the tackles on inside zone, counter, or man-gap runs, as well as in outside zone. He should be a fit for almost any offense in the NFL and should be able to contribute immediately as a change of pace back, if not a starter.
Teams will probably want Abanikanda to improve his play strength at the NFL level. He’s a quick and determined runner, but isn’t a great option in short-yardage situations. Likewise, he will need to work on his pass protection if he wants to see consistent snaps in obvious passing situations. Teams can use him as a receiving option, showing that he can run a diverse route tree will help him gain their trust in him.
As added value, Abanikanda also has some experience as a kick returner and could have additional upside there.
The declining value of running backs in the draft could force Abanikanda down big boards. He only has one year of elite production and doesn’t have jaw-dropping measurables. That said, he was such a consistently dangerous runner throughout his junior season that he should be a weapon immediately upon entering the NFL.
Originally posted on Big Blue View