Rookie Spotlight: Israel Abanikanda
By Cody Folden
This rookie spotlight is one of the harder ones for me to write. Israel Abanikanda is a hard prospect to gauge. The best team he had was in 2021 with Kenny Pickett and Jordan Addison. In 2021 his stats were 123 carries for 651 yards and 7 touchdowns is a great season, his 2022 is significantly better with 239 carries, 1431 yards, and 20 touchdowns. He also just had his pro day where he definitely helped his stock out. He may have hit in the 4.3-4.4 range unofficially for his 40 time, had a massive 41-inch vertical, and had a huge 10’8” broad jump. Eye-popping numbers.
There are a lot of analysts that think he is a workhorse back. I actually don't buy that. 5’10, 217 lbs is a great build for a running back no doubt. The way Abanikanda is going to excel in the NFL is going to be in a complementary role. Here’s why:
While running the ball he has excellent vision in finding where the hole is and getting through it. With his frame and height, he has a good ability to hide behind some of his linemen to get yardage.
Running in the low 4.4s and possibly 4.3 range is always going to be a positive. He showed on tape that he has the acceleration needed to get to the speed on tape but it isn't his first gear\
Abanikanda is one of the only running back prospects this year that you see lining up as a wide receiver. He showed he can do it, even while catching with his pads more often than not. The stats are 38 receptions for 354 yards and 3 touchdowns in his career with Pittsburgh.
Like many running back prospects this year, this is less than desired. For fantasy purposes, it doesn't matter to him. For the team he is on, he won't be in the backfield to pass block and the defense will know that. It will need to improve to fake out the defense so he isn't smothered.
Analysts I have seen are saying this is a pro for him or that he is a bigger back with speed upside. Abanikanda is not a violent runner. He plays smaller than he actually is. He doesn’t seek out defenders to gain more yards and leaves some extra yards out there by not wanting to initiate contact with the defender.
He has a pretty nice spin move to negate negative yardage in the backfield. Abanikanda isn’t physical in seeking out yards, nor is he creative in breaking more long runs. He runs by the script and if the play doesn't work, he does not create more yardage or a big play.
Player Comparisons: Clyde Edwards-Helaire
I believe Abanikanda is a Clyde Edwards-Helaire type of running back with a little more athleticism. Pro day numbers and off-season workouts are great to see, but like Clyde, I don’t see Abanikanda as a workhorse. He will need another guy there to take reps so then he can be effective. Clyde has always had another RB whether it was Darrell Williams, Jerick McKinnon, or Isiah Pacheco.
If you get Abanikanda into the right fit, he will produce complementary numbers for you. In fantasy, we get worked up with combine results and pro days. On game day he sticks to the script. In fantasy drafts, I know you will want him, but do not overpay. Know what he is; he will be a complementary back and you either overpaid for him and will be disappointed, or you will get him with a late 2nd or 3rd-round pick and be happy he gets 15-20 touches per game.
You can’t expect Abanikanda to be the playmaker, you can however give him some scripted series and watch him succeed in the rushing and passing game. He was a workhorse this year because he was the team. When other NFL guys were on the field with him (2021) he could become nonexistent.
No question about it. The North Carolina game. He demolished the Tar Heel defense with a stat line of 26 carries, 127 yards, and 3 touchdowns. Other than Josh Downs, he was the best player on the field. His line gave him big holes and Pittsburgh could play on script all game.
Kansas City Chiefs: No question this is a good fit. If they can somehow get him in the 2nd, 3rd or 4th round I see Kansa City taking him. They don’t believe in Clyde Edwards-Helaire anymore and will need a complementary back to Isaih Pacheco. He is the perfect guy for that role with Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs
Houston Texans: For very similar reasons to the Chiefs, Abanikanda would be a great fit in Houston. Dameon Pierce is an aggressive runner and can take on a workload but Abanikanda would be a good change of pace with more receiving capability. 2 running back sets with Abanikanda motioning out to the slot is an offensive scheme I can get behind even with a rookie QB.
Dallas Cowboys: Speaking of the offensive scheme. The Cowboys need to find a running back that can take over Ezekial Elliott’s touches. I don't think they go with an Elliott in the draft. I believe they take another running back with similar traits to Tony Pollard. Although Pollard, a little more polished coming out of college, didn't get the same hype as Israel is. He would be a nightmare in 2 running back sets and motioning Izzy and Tony Pollard around could give the defense fits.
Cody Folden joined the Dynasty Pros team in 2023. He plays in many dynasty leagues but dabbles in other leagues like devy, contract, and scouting leagues. He loves to dive deep into learning about prospects coming up through college and seeing them thrive when they get to the league.