Israel Abanikanda is a name that has been shooting up running back rankings all over the dynasty fantasy football industry. He has been checking boxes during every part of the pre-draft process, which cannot be said for other running backs in this class. Is Abanikanda just the hot name in dynasty, or could he be a difference maker on your fantasy football team? Let’s take a deep look at his profile and answer that question!
- College: Pittsburgh
- Height: 5’10”
- Weight: 216 lbs
- Hand Size: 8 ¼ “
- Age: 20
- Year: Junior
- Draft Projection: Fourth Round
- 40-Yard Dash: 4.39 (pro day number)
High School & Personal Life
Israel Abanikanda is from Brooklyn, New York, and attended Abraham Lincoln High School. In his senior season, he rushed for over 1,300 yards and 20 touchdowns. Following that season, he was named the Gatorade Football Player of the Year for New York. Israel was rated as a 4-Star recruit according to 247Sports and was the top player from New York State in that recruiting class. Abanikanda received 17 offers from Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Tennessee, amongst other schools. He ultimately decided to attend the University of Pittsburgh and enrolled on February 5th, 2020.
Israel Abanikanda appeared in only six games during his freshman season but still finished the season as the fourth-leading rusher for the Pittsburgh Panthers. As a sophomore, he split work with Vincent Davis and was far more efficient despite a smaller workload. He finished that season with 651 yards on 123 attempts. This was also the first year that Israel was utilized in the return game. The coaching staff saw his speed and wanted to take advantage of that on special teams.
Israel’s true breakout season came this past year during his Junior season. He was the leading rusher for the Panthers and was able to amass over 1,400 rushing yards on 238 rushing attempts. He also led the FBS in rushing touchdowns with 20. This production gave Abanikanda the confidence to declare for the NFL draft after three college seasons.
Now that testing numbers are in for most of this draft class, Israel stands at the top of the leaderboard. According to the data over at RAS (Relative Athletic Score), Abanikanda is the most athletic prospect amongst this 2023 rookie running back class. His 9.88 RAS result is good enough for the top-24 all-time at the running back position.
Regarding analytics, one metric usually indicates NFL success when a player declares for the draft. Those players who choose to forgo their senior seasons to enter the draft are called “early declares.” Israel falls into this category as he leaves the University of Pittsburgh with at least one year of eligibility left. The status shows that a prospect can garner the production needed to dominate his competition and elevate to the next level despite a younger age.
Combination of Frame & Size
In a draft class, both wide receiver and running back-wise, that profiles on the smaller side, Israel’s size is such a breath of fresh air. The fact that he combines it with speed is just icing on the cake. In this play against the Tennessee Volunteers, we can see the speed on display. He hits the hole and rips off a 75-plus-yard touchdown run. Home runs are easily in the toolbox for Israel Abanikanda.
This clip from the same game further reinforces this prospect’s frame, size, and speed highlight. Abanikanda has the frame size to shed defenders going in for arm tackles while also possessing the speed to take advantage of the hole in front of him. Big plays like these two are all over Israel Abanikanda’s film.
Areas To Improve
Utilization in the Receiving Game
It is not often that we see Israel Abanikanda utilized as a pass-catching option. Through three seasons, he only accounted for 38 receptions on 50 targets. That is not to say that he is a negative asset as a receiver; we did not see much in production. I don’t doubt that this is a skill he can work on, but he will not be drafted as a pass-catching option by his NFL team.
When watching tape on Israel Abanikanda, there are a lot of examples of him getting what is blocked for him. Past that, there are not many cases where he is creating on his own. According to PFF, he had 782 yards before contact, ranking second amongst the nation’s Power Five running backs. However, his 19% forced missed tackle rate had him finishing at 64th. This clip shows Abanikanda gaining very few yards as his line struggles to create a hole for Abanikanda.
Projected Draft Capital & Role
The fantasy football community seems much higher on Israel Abanikanda than the NFL draft community. According to NFL Mock Draft Database, Abanikanda is projected to go in the fifth round of the 2023 NFL draft. Some mocks have him as early as the third round, but most have him falling in the fifth round. For dynasty fantasy football, that draft capital is less than ideal.
Abanikanda is the type of player that can have truly elite production, given his frame and speed. If he can land on an NFL team with an above-average offensive line, he can take advantage of open holes and hit that home run ceiling you see on his college tape. However, if he is asked to generate yards or get creative behind the offensive line, his ceiling for fantasy football might be severely capped.
Israel Abanikanda comes in as my tenth-ranked running back in this class, falling right between Tank Bigsby and Zach Evans. He is one of the few backs in this class whose final ranking relies greatly on his NFL landing spot. If he can land on an NFL team with an above-average offensive line that can create the space he needs to operate, he will be moving up my rankings. Conversely, a negative situation would have been lowering him significantly.
In most rookie mock drafts I am in, Israel has been falling into the third round. He has all the traits (size, early declaration, speed) that could make him a fast riser with a positive landing spot. If he remains a third-round flyer, I will have a ton of exposure to Izzy across my dynasty portfolio. It would not surprise me to see him rise into the middle of the second round when dynasty rookie draft season begins.
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I hope you enjoyed this rookie profile. Be sure to check back often, as I will cover all fantasy-relevant positions. For more content like this, follow me on Twitter @DanT_NFL. DMs are always open for questions, comments, or craft beer recommendations!