2023 NFL Draft: Three sleeper prospects to keep your eye one
3. Israel Abanikanda, Running Back, Pittsburgh
Israel Abanikanda is an athletic marvel who possesses good size and provides value as both a rusher and receiver. He is one of just a handful of running backs in the 2023 NFL Draft who fit this mold, making him a really exciting prospect.
Last season, Abanikanda was extremely productive, especially for a 20-year-old, recording 1,431 rushing yards and 20 rushing touchdowns while also catching 12 passes for 146 yards and a touchdown. He was one of just seven power five running backs to record 1,400 rushing yards and 100 receiving yards, including Bijan Robinson, Tyjae Spears, and Deuce Vaughn.
PFF loved him last season, giving him a PFF grade of 88.5 and a PFF rushing grade of 90.6. Both of these marks ranked top ten among running backs in this year’s class.
His receiving volume wasn’t anything special during his final season, but his receiving efficiency was, as he averaged 12.2 yards per reception (88th percentile since 2014) and had a receiving touchdown rate of 8.3% (72nd percentile since 2014). This means he has some potential to be a solid pass catcher in the NFL.
One of Abanikanda’s best qualities is his athleticism. He absolutely dominated his pro day, recording a 4.51 forty-yard dash (92nd percentile), 1.5 10-yard-split (98th percentile), 41 in. vertical (99th percentile), and 10’8 broad jump (97th percentile). To make this even more impressive, he did all of this at 216 lbs. Abanikanda is truly one of the best athletes we’ve seen at the running back position in recent memory.
Abanikanda is far from perfect, though. Although his production is impressive in terms of volume, his rushing efficiency was quite low in certain areas. For example, he averaged just 5.6 yards per carry and 2.95 yards after contact per rush attempt throughout his college career. Both of these marks are really low, especially for a guy his size.
This is concerning, considering that efficiency metrics like yards per carry are more predictive of future success for running backs than volume stats like rushing yards per game.
While Abanikanda wasn’t great at generating yards on a per-carry basis at Pittsburgh, he did generate touchdowns at a crazy rate. His career touchdown rate of 7.2% ranks in the 80th percentile of all running back prospects since 2014. That makes his poor yards-per-carry mark easier to digest.
Here’s why you can feel comfortable with Abanikandi despite his underwhelming rushing efficiency. I have two custom metrics called rushing and receiving grades, which combine collegiate production and athletic testing numbers to show how good a player is as a rusher and receiver.
Since 2014, only four running back prospects in my database have a rushing grade of 80+, a receiving grade of 60+, and were 21 years old or younger the night of the draft: Saquon Barkley, Bijan Robinson, Jeremy McNichols, and Israel Abanikanda.
Buy some Israel Abanikanda stock while you can.