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Israel Abanikanda Joins a Number of other Pitt Running Backs Taken in the NFL Draft



Former Pitt running back Israel Abanikanda found his new team Saturday afternoon, when the NY Jets drafted him in the 5th Round.

Abanikanda excelled at Pitt, particularly last season, where he ran for 1,431 yards and 20 touchdowns in 11 games. The rushing yards and rushing touchdowns are eighth and fourth best in a season, respectively. He also ran for a school record 320 yards and tied for the school record with six touchdowns in a 45-29 win over Virginia Tech in October. Abanikanda earned First-Team All-ACC and First Team All-American honors for his great play in 2022.

He joins a long list of great Pitt running backs to earn a draft pick in the NFL Draft following their careers. The claim for “Running Back U” started with LeSean McCoy in the late 2000s.

McCoy played two seasons for the Panthers in 2007 and 2008, making them count with his incredible rushing abilities. He ran for 35 touchdowns and 2,816 yards during those two years, good for third and eighth most in a career for a Panther, respectively.

He earned Second-Team All-American and Big East Offensive Player of the Year in 2008 as a sophomore and Big East Rookie of the Year as a freshman in 2007. He also earned back-to-back First-Team All-Big East during his time at Pitt.

The Philadelphia Eagles drafted him in the 2009 NFL Draft in the Second Round at the No. 53 pick. McCoy would play six seasons with the Eagles before they traded him to the Buffalo Bills, where he would play for four seasons from 2015-18.

He continued his great play in the NFL and his peers made him one of four running backs on the NFL 2010s All-Decade Team. McCoy made six Pro Bowls, including five consecutive from 2013-17, two First-Teams All-Pro in 2011 and 2013, and also lead the NFL in rushing touchdowns in 2011 and rushing yards in 2013.

McCoy also won two Super Bowls at the end of his career, doing so in back-to-back years with the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

He finished with 11,102 rushing yards and 73 rushing touchdowns over his 12 seasons in the NFL. McCoy’s rushing yards are No. 22 all-time in NFL history.

Dion Lewis followed in McCoy’s footsteps and excelled for Pitt. He ran for 1,799 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2009, second and fifth most in a Pitt season, respectively. Lewis earned Big East Offensive Player and Rookie of the Year honors, as well as Second-Team All-Americans as a freshman.

Lewis had another solid season in 2010 and finished his Pitt career with 2,860 rushing yards and 30 rushing touchdowns. His career total rushing yards and rushing touchdowns are sixth and fifth best in Pitt history, respectively.

The Eagles drafted Lewis in the 2011 NFL Draft in the Fifth Round with the No. 149 pick. Lewis did not see the same levels of success that McCoy did, finishing with 2,435 rushing yards and 21 total touchdowns in his eight seasons. He won one Super Bowl with the New England Patriots in the 2016 season.

James Conner played for four seasons for Pitt from 2013-16 and experienced a number of changes and difficulties during his time there. He came into the program as a defensive back but switched to running back and excelled towards the end of his freshman season.

He continued to excel in 2014 as a sophomore, rushing for 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns, earning him ACC Offensive Player of the Year and ACC Player of the Year honors. His rushing touchdowns in 2014 are the most in a single season in Pitt history and his rushing yards are fourth best.

Conner then tore his MCL in the first game of 2015, ending his season, and then battled Hodgkin’s lymphoma that following offseason. He returned in 2016 and ran for 1,092 yards and 16 touchdowns, which are the sixth most rushing touchdowns in a single season in Pitt history.

Conner’s 3,733 total rushing yards and 56 total rushing touchdowns are both second best in a Pitt career.

The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Conner in the 2017 NFL Draft in the Third Round with the No. 105 pick. Conner would play with the hometown team for four seasons before moving on to the Arizona Cardinals the past two seasons. He has 3,836 rushing yards and 44 rushing touchdowns in his career.

Qadree Ollison succeeded Conner at Pitt and played important parts in his collegiate career. He played alongside Darrin Hall and undertook the responsibility as a freshman in 2015, rushing for 1,121 yards and 11 touchdowns and earning the ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year award.

Ollison struggled to recreate those rushing totals the next two years but excelled as a senior in 2018. He ran for 1,213 yards and 11 touchdowns, en route to leading the Panthers to their first ACC Coastal Division Title.

The Atlanta Falcons drafted Ollison in the 2019 NFL Draft in the Fifth Round with the No. 152 pick. Ollison played in 19 games over three seasons, rushing for 158 yards and five touchdowns. He played in three games with the Dallas Cowboys in 2022 and is currently with the Jacksonville Jaguars on a reserve/future contract for 2023.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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