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2023 NFL Draft Profile: Pittsburgh running back Israel Abanikanda

The powerful Abanikanda could be an intriguing addition to the Broncos backfield.

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 22 Pitt at Louisville Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

One prospect who may interest the Denver Broncos on day two or three of the 2023 NFL Draft is Pittsburgh running back Israel Abanikanda. He is a 5’10”, 216-pound running back who is considered one of the better running backs in this entire draft. The Athletic’s draft guru Dane Brugler has Abanikanda ranked as his 9th-best running back in the entire draft and has a 3rd to 4th-round grade on him.

He played a total of three seasons at Pittsburgh but is coming off a breakout career year for them which has elevated his draft stock. During his three-year career, Abanikanda totaled 390 carries for 2,177 yards, 28 touchdowns, and a yards-per-carry average of 5.6. He added in 38 career receptions for 354 yards and 3 touchdown receptions. This past season, he totaled 239 carries for an impressive 1,431 yards rushing, a whopping 20 touchdowns, and averaged 6.0 yards per carry. He also caught 12 receptions for 146 yards and 1 touchdown.

Player Profile

Height: 5’10”

Weight: 216 pounds |

40-time: 4.44 seconds

Arm Length: 32”

Hands: 8 1/4”

Vertical Jump: 41 inches

Broad Jump: 10’8”

Short Shuttle: 4.32 seconds

3-Cone Drill: 7.14 seconds

Film Room

Scouting Report


  • Has a strong and athletic frame and looks the part of an NFL running back
  • Very productive in 2022 where he totaled 20 rushing touchdowns and had over 100 rushing yards in 9 out of 11 games
  • A classic one-cut downhill runner
  • A former sprinter and showcased that skill with multiple long runs
  • Has good speed and is elusive in the open field
  • Has a quick burst and acceleration
  • Has quick feet and makes defenders in the open field
  • Displays good vision and hits the hole quickly
  • Flashed at times in the passing game
  • Has a low workload and just turned 20 years old


  • Contact balance is not great and often goes down quickly after contact
  • Not really a power runner or short-yardage back
  • Had three fumbles in 2022 so ball security will need to improve
  • Runs a little tall and needs to lower his pad level
  • Needs to improve his pass-blocking skills
  • Inconsistent in the passing game
  • Had some minor injuries in 2022 and missed the combine because of a hamstring injury

Israel Abanikanda RAS

What other analysts are saying about Pittsburgh running back Israel Abanikanda

A zone-scheme runner with early down size, Abanikanda can be a bit inconsistent with his reads and tempo early in the run. However, he has plant-and-go agility and is able to snap off cuts at tight angles to elude short-area traffic when needed. He has terrific top-end speed to gash a poorly fitted run front, but he needs to run with better discipline and downhill decisiveness to stay ahead of NFL speed. Abanikanda isn’t much of a third down option, but he does have the size and talent to compete for a RB2/3 slot early on with a chance to move up the depth chart in time. -’s Lance Zierlein

A two-year starter at Pittsburgh, Abanikanda was the featured weapon in offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr.’s balanced run attack. After a passheavy offense with quarterback Kenny Pickett and former coordinator Mark Whipple, Pitt dedicated the offense to the run game in 2022, and Abanikanda responded with a career-year, finishing No. 2 in the FBS in all-purpose yards (164.1 per game). Abanikanda has eyes that are able to keep up with his lower body athleticism, which allows him to use a variety of rush paths and run with rhythm. His body tends to weaken once defenders make contact (only 45.2 percent of his 2022 yardage came after contact), and his workload will need to be monitored at the next level. Overall, Abanikanda doesn’t have the contact balance desired for a featured NFL back, but he is an instinctive runner with outstanding vision, burst and run-away gear to be a productive part of a committee backfield. His development as a blocker and receiver will also determine his NFL ceiling. - The Athletic’s Dane Brugler

Final Thoughts

The Broncos current backfield has a rehabbing power back in Javonte Williams and versatile veteran Samaje Perine as their expected starters. It is unclear when Williams will be back so there is a good chance that there will be some early season snaps up for grabs so I expect the Broncos to draft a running back. If they do, I think they will consider Abanikanda in the third or fourth round of the draft.

He brings a speed and explosion threat that this team is currently lacking in their backfield. Sure, he is not a power back, but the Broncos do not need that. He is a one-cut, downhill, find-the-hole explosive runner who has great vision. With the Broncos likely leaning on their run game this season, this skill set could be really beneficial for them.

Like most rookie backs, he needs to improve as a pass blocker, but he showed that he is a willing blocker. The ball security concerns are a red flag but that is something that can be coached up and emphasized during the summer.

I like a lot of the backs in this draft class and Pittsburgh’s Israel Abanikanda is near the top of the list. He has a skill set you cannot teach and could be a valuable rotational back for the Broncos moving forward.