2023 NFL Draft

2023 NFL Draft Player Profiles: Pittsburgh RB Israel Abanikanda

With the 2023 NFL Draft approaching it is time to look at some prospects and see how they grade out. Some will be future NFL superstars, while others will struggle to make a roster. A way to get an idea of where a college athlete will fall onto this spectrum is by looking at their tape and college production. So without further ado, let’s take a look at Pittsburgh Panthers running back Israel Abanikanda.

#2 Israel Abanikanda, RB, Pittsburgh (Junior), 5’11, 215

Player Ht/Wt Hand Size Arm Length Wingspan
Israel Abanikanda 5115, 215 N/A N/A N/A
40-Yard Dash 10-Yard Dash Short Shuttle 3-Cone
Broad Jump Vertical Bench Press

The Good

—  Good vision, finds the hole very often
—  Good secondary-level speed
—  Slippery, doesn’t go down very easily- especially in the open field
—  Good cutting ability, can use his jump cut to create room to run
—  Doesn’t panic when surrounded by defenders
—  Good ball protection, he didn’t lose a fumble in his collegiate career
—  Gets better as game goes along; high volume of carries doesn’t bother him
—  Moves well, shifty player who can angle his body to avoid tackles.
—  Sells play action and RPO’s well, if he doesn’t get the ball on an RPO he still runs his rep out at full effort
—  Great production his junior year

The Bad

—  Poor pass protector; misses blocking assignments sometimes, doesn’t hold blocks very long and lets defenders disengage rather easily
—  Slow first few steps, needs time to rev up before hitting full speed
—  Very limited route tree, all his routes were basically just wheel routes and routes to the flat
—  Due to his lack of speed from first few steps, will struggle to if a hole isn’t opened up
—  Only one year of high-end production


—  Only 20 years old
—  Born October 5, 2002
—  Dad played college football at Georgia Tech
—  Brother, Michael Abanikanda, played college football at both Temple and Buffalo
—  Junior prospect from Brooklyn, NY
—  New York’s Gatorade Player of the Year in high school
—  Graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School early, enrolled at Pitt in January 2020
—  Played some defensive back in high school, finished high school career with two interceptions
—  Was #1 rated recruit from NY by 247 Sports
—  ESPN All-American 2022
—  First Team All-ACC in 2022
—  AP Third Team All-American
—  Tied for most rushing touchdowns in country
—  Ran for 2,177 yards in three seasons at Pitt
—  Had kick return for a touchdown in 2021, named ACC Specialist of the Week for it
—  Had a 320-yard, six-touchdown game this past season against Virginia Tech
—  Exploded Junior year for 1,431 yards, 20 touchdowns and a 6.0 yards per carry average
—  Played with Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett for first two college seasons

Tape Breakdown

Abanikanda had a terrific junior year, rushing for 1,431 yards and being the centerpiece of the Pitt Panthers offense. His stellar play helped Pitt finish with a 9-4 record. While he is not big back, when you watch him play you can tell he is not averse to contact, willing to take it on when necessary. In addition, while he is not lightning-quick, he still has good speed in the open field making defensive backs struggle to catch him even when they have a decent angle.

One of the first things that stood out to me when watching Abanikanda was that he finds holes. He has a slow first couple of steps, which has its drawbacks which I will get into later, but it helps him always be able to find the right hole.

As seen above Abanikanda does a good job of letting his blockers create a hole and he follows those blocks. He isn’t the biggest or quickest guy, so him hitting the right hole is important for him to pick up positive yardage. Once he gets through the hole, he has the speed and slipperiness to pick up even more yardage.

As mentioned earlier Abanikanda is not afraid of contact. While he is not a huge back, he also is not afraid to lower his shoulder to get extra yards as shown in the clip above against UNC. He isn’t a back that will consistently run you over, but he often falls forward and can get a yard or two when needed.

Abanikanda has a really good jump cut in his arsenal. He uses it to not get clogged up in the trenches and to create some space for him to operate. A slippery runner, just give him a bit of space and he can get you some yards. Above, see how he’s surrounded by blockers and defenders, while not in an awful situation, he can’t just go straight. He jump cuts to his right and picks up an extra few yards. Abanikanda doesn’t panic when he’s surrounded, he finds a solution.

Another thing I like about Abanikanda’s game is that he sells play-action and RPO’s well. Some players on a RPO when they don’t get the ball will not give it all on their rep because they don’t have the ball. Not Abanikanda.

Watch here on this RPO how Abanikanda’s effort pulls linebackers down and out of position. While it doesn’t lead to a completion or anything like that, it still showcases his ability to make linebackers bite. If he dogs his reps, play action becomes less effective.

However, Abanikanda’s game does have some downsides. For one, despite being willing to get physical when running the ball, he is not a good pass blocker at all.

As seen here, Abanikanda missed a block by not seeing the free blitzer and going to pick him up. It ended up costing Pitt the game putting them in an impossible situation in OT. Abanikanda needs to identify the blitzer coming unblocked and abort the play action here and pick him up. If he picks up the blitzer this could be a touchdown.

Here is another clip of Abanikanda struggling in blocking. While he does well initially, he doesn’t hold his block for too long and lets the blitzing cornerback disengage and sack the quarterback. A decent job initially, but he has to do a better job of holding his block here just a bit longer.

Going to a more positive about Abanikanda is his open-field speed. After his first few steps, he really gets going and will outrun almost any linebacker setting up big gains.

Look here as he hits the hole and no one from behind him has a chance at catching him. And, despite being in front of Abanikanda, the Miami safety almost loses him in a foot race. In the open field, Abanikanda really possesses great ability. His speed and slipperiness make him a problem when he gets in space.

However, Abanikanda’s biggest issue is that he does not use that speed all the time. As I’ve referenced a few times, his first few steps feel agonizingly slow at times. While it helps sometimes in letting holes open up, other times it prevents him from getting yards.

Here, Abanikanda needs to hit the hole with his open-field speed immediately. While yes, there is a free linebacker, I think Abanikanda can beat him to the hole and bounce outside for a big game if he uses his open-field speed right there.

Speaking of open-field speed, let’s look at another example of Abanikanda running wild in the open field.

Watch how Abanikanda breaks a touchdown run vs Tennessee. In the open field now, one could catch him and he even slips past some tackle attempts, albeit they aren’t great attempts. Either way, it shows this slipperiness that I really like about him. He can be slippery in the backfield or open field, but combining his slipperiness with his one-field speed you can see how it can get scary for defenses if they do let him out in the open field.

Let’s end his tape breakdown with some more positives. He is slippery. Sometimes it feels if he was slathered in butter before the game.

Look here, Abanikanda is not easy to bring down and bounces off defenders at times. This should be stopped for a one-yard gain, instead, he turns it into a four-yard gain. That’s big. 2nd and 6 is a lot better to work from than 2nd and 9. Abanikanda simply does not go down easily, which is a plus for a guy who doesn’t possess elite size for a running back.


Israel Abanikanda had a great year in 2022 and for good reason. He reads blocks really well and is hard to tackle in the open field. He was the perfect fit for a good Pitt offensive line and run-heavy system. You can’t fluke over 1,000 yards and 20 touchdowns. He also isn’t afraid of contact which is good to see. While he won’t inflict punishment like a Najee Harris, he isn’t going to run out of bounds instead of picking up a few extra yards.

However, I still do have some concerns. While he has really good vision and open-field speed, he takes a while to hit that top speed. If he is on a team without a good to great offensive line, I think he can be a really effective running back. But, everyone is faster at the NFL level and behind even an average offensive line Abanikanda won’t have the ability to take that long to rev up. Defenses are just too fast. It kind of feels like a Le’Veon Bell situation where his patience works great behind an elite offensive line, but behind a bad one I don’t think it will work at all. If Abanikanda can fix that slow start, he will be a really good running back. It is a big if though.

Another two things Abanikanda has to work on is his pass blocking and, to a lesser extent, in the receiving game. His pass blocking 100% needs to get better, but because Abanikanda ran a very small route tree, there isn’t too much to go off there. While we can assume he isn’t the best in the pass game because of this, I also think it would be unfair to stamp him as a poor route runner or receiver.

Projection: Day Three

Depot Draft Grade: 7.1 – Rotational Player (4th Round)

Games Watched: vs. UNC (2022) vs Tennessee (2022) vs Univ. of Miami (2022) vs West Virginia (2022)

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