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Israel Abanikanda
NFL Draft

Israel Abanikanda’s NFL Draft Stock Continues To Rise

  • Ryan Fowler
  • March 30, 2023
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Let’s take a quick trip back to 2021, shall we? A Pittsburgh Panthers program headlined by Heisman semifinalist quarterback Kenny Pickett and all-world wideout Jordan Addison, Pitt went on to win the ACC. While 2022 saw new faces in new places in the form of Kedon Slovis replacing Pickett and Addison’s transferring to Lincoln Riley’s USC Trojans, many expected Pitt to fade back into the shadows with headliners gone. However, the success of running back Israel Abanikanda has drawn the spotlight back to Pitt once again after a dominant fall campaign and eye-popping pre-draft process.

A home-run hitter with the bulk (217 pounds) to holster an RB1-like workload, Abanikanda was unstoppable in 2022. With 20 touchdowns and more than 1,200 yards on the ground to the tune of 6.0 yards a pop, opposing defenses knew he was carrying the rock but simply had no answer. And while his days as a Panther are now in the rearview mirror, his tape, combined with an elite athletic profile, has raised his draft stock in what is a deep talent pool of running backs this spring.

While Texas’ Bijan Robinson and Alabama’s Jahmyr Gibbs are and will remain the cream of the crop at the position, the order in which names come off the board behind the two potential day-one picks remains to be sorted out. Abanikanda has raised eyebrows across the league and it shouldn’t be a surprise if you hear his name called earlier than expected next month.

While increased sand in the pants often carries a narrative of being a slower, less fluid ball carrier, Abanikanda touts the necessary burst to explode to and through creases. Patient footwork is a beautiful thing to see as a young prospect, and his consistent ability to slow the game down in between the mess of the trenches allows him to pop through the smallest of spaces in search of open grass. While he has a ways to go as a potential three-down back after receiving minimal targets in space, as teams hunt for bell cow talents who can shoulder a heavy workload, Abanikanda has become a massive name to follow. 

While we won’t get too high on our horse off of a Pro Day workout, the name of the game is about traits that translate. After producing heavily this fall and lighting up stopwatches at his Pro Day, Israel Abanikanda has thrown another name into the fold in what will be one of the more exciting positional groups to follow in the weeks to come.

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Ryan Fowler