In the 5th round (143rd overall pick) of the 2023 NFL draft, the New York Jets selected Pittsburgh Runningback Israel Abanikanda. This article is intended to provide some extra context and information about this Jets’ selection by discussing his analytical profile.
Age: 20 (born October 5, 2002, so he will be 20 by opening day)
Relative Athletic Score: With a score of 9.61, Abanikanda is a fantastic athlete among running backs. More specifically, he excelled on the explosiveness and speed aspects of athletic testing even though he tested a bit short at only 5’10. The largest knock on his testing is the agility grades where his scores were mediocre. While these drills were a bit of an outlier for his overall testing, we should be careful in writing this off as unimportant given that the 3-cone drill is perhaps the best combine-related predictors of NFL performance for runningbacks.
Israel Abanikanda is a RB prospect in the 2023 draft class. He scored a 9.61 #RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 68 out of 1740 RB from 1987 to 2023. https://t.co/X2Rf37W0Dn pic.twitter.com/hiSTDM35Zw— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 18, 2023
Career stats through 30 games over last 3 seasons per sports-reference.com (2022 stats in parentheses):
- 390 rushing attempts (239)
- 2177 rushing yards (1431)
- 5.6 yards per carry (6.0)
- 28 rushing touchdowns (20)
- 50 targets (17)
- 38 receptions (12)
- 354 receiving yards (146)
- 9.3 yards per catch (12.2)
- 3 receiving touchdowns (1)
The first thing that jumps out in examining Abanikanda’s stats is that he truly broke out in 2022 with little production preceding it. With that said, his rushing totals in 2022 were very strong both in terms of accumulating stats over time (1431 yards and 20 touchdowns) as well as in terms of efficiency (6 yards per carry). Additionally, it is rather clear Abanikanda did the majority of his damage on the ground given his limited receiving production relative to his rushing production. However, his rather catch rate (38 catches on 50 targets) was rather strong, so this may simply be an issue of target volume rather than a limitation as a pass catcher.
2022 Performance per ProFootballFocus:
- Overall grade: 88.5
- Rushing grade: 90.6
- Zone grade: 88.9
- Gap grade: 80.4
- Elusive rating: 58.1
- Yards after contact per attempt: 2.67
PFF’s evaluation of Abanikanda as a rusher seems to align with his output, which is to say they evaluate him as “very good.” At a more nuanced level, PFF’s grades suggest Abanikanda particularly excelled in zone rushing, but struggled to create much on his own based on his elusive rating and average yards after contact. This aligns with his reputation as a strong one cut rusher, while his inability to create much for himself during his 2022 season at Pittsburgh likely explains why he was available in Round 5.
Abanikanda is a great athlete with great production, which usually makes for a pick that fans can easily get behind. Admittedly, I expected to be floored by Abanikanda going into this report, but a deeper dive has somewhat tempered my expectations for him. While he’s fast and explosive, he isn’t particularly agile which is important for an NFL running back based on past data. Moreover, while he seems to get what’s there as a runner, he has yet to create much for himself, which may explain why he did not receive significant reps until his 3rd season at Pittsburgh and may put a “cap” on his eventual ceiling as a player. On the other hand, his ability to get what’s there and to potentially run past defenders with his 4.45 40 yard speed may allow him to outperform his draft spot if he has the opportunity to play behind a strong offensive line that allows for significant yards before contact. Overall, this seems like a good value pick to me for the 5th round even if I no longer view him as a massive “steal” at his draft spot upon further evaluation.
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