Pittsburgh running back Israel Abanikanda put forth an outstanding performance during his Pro Day. Abanikanda had a 41-inch vertical and a 10-foot-8 broad jump. Both results would have topped all participating running backs at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Abanikanda reportedly ran the 40-yard dash in the low 4.4s. Abanikanda broke out for the Panthers in 2022 by recording 1,431 rushing yards on 239 carries (6.0 yards per carry). He accounted for 13 touchdowns in 11 appearances.
Israel Abanikanda’s draft stock is officially soaring. He’ll be a top-100 selection and we’ve identified four ideal fits.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
The Chargers are entrenched in a contract standoff with running back Austin Ekeler. Ekeler, whose contract is set to expire at the conclusion of 2023, is seeking an extension. The situation is nearing the point of no return with Ekeler recently requesting a trade, a wish that general manager Tom Telesco is open to granting.
Ekeler’s departure would leave the Chargers with a massive hole at running back. The likes of Joshua Kelley and Isaiah Spiller haven’t proven themselves capable of shouldering the massive workload Ekeler would leave behind. Abanikanda is still proving himself as a pass-catching threat, but he’d instantly become the Chargers’ most talented rusher.
The Cowboys planted their flag at running back by signing Tony Pollard to the franchise tag and releasing Ezekiel Elliott. Dallas’ focus now shifts to pairing Pollard with a power back. Abanikanda fits the bill.
Pollard was at his best when paired with a powerful ball-carrier that can grind out tough short-yardage situations. Abanikanda is a 217-pound machine that runs with the expected power his frame suggests. Abanikanda features terrific contact balance and consistently wins after initial contact.
The Cowboys haven’t pursued running backs via the free-agent market. It suggests the Cowboys are comfortable with drafting a ball-carrier. Abanikanda should be a high-priority target for Dallas.
The Bengals lost an underrated contributor in Samaje Perine to free agency. Perine was the ideal change-of-pace back in Cincinnati. In 2022, Perine accounted for 133 touches, 681 total yards, and six touchdowns. The Bengals must replace Perine’s production.
The 2023 campaign could be Joe Mixon’s last in Cincinnati. Recent draft pick Chris Evans hasn’t proven to be more than a special teamer. Abanikanda doesn’t quite run with as much power as Perine does, but he’s an ascending talent that’s one of the more powerful ball carriers in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Tyler Allgeier had an outstanding rookie campaign in 2022 all things considered. The No. 151 overall selection, Allgeier rushed for 1,035 yards and three touchdowns while averaging 4.9 yards per carry. Allgeier secured a prominent role in Atlanta’s offense moving forward as a result, but I believe Arthur Smith will draft another running back in 2023.
Expect coach Smith to make the running game a focal point of Atlanta’s offense. Acquiring a blocking tight end like Jonnu Smith was key to that plan. Alleviating pressure off the shoulders of Desmond Ridder is crucial. Smith will attempt to achieve that by leaning on multiple backs. Abanikanda would be effective in Atlanta.
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