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New York Jets Select Pitt RB Israel Abanikanda in Fifth Round of the 2023 NFL Draft



Israel Abanikanda ran behind Carter Warren at Pitt for the last few seasons, and now he’ll have the opportunity to do so in the NFL, too.

The New York Jets have selected Israel Abanikanda in the fifth round (144th pick) of the 2023 NFL Draft — joining Warren who was selected by the Jets in the fourth round.

Abanikanda — a Brooklyn native — continues the rich history of Pitt running backs being selected in the NFL Draft, joining the likes of Tony Dorsett, Craig Heyward, Curtis Martin, Kevan Barlow, LeSean McCoy, Dion Lews and James Conner.

Abanikanda first arrived at Pitt as a raw yet explosive three-star running back from Brooklyn, New York in the class of 2020. He immediately impressed with his breakaway speed, busting out an 80-yard touchdown during one of his first spring practices. But he’s grown into a well-rounded back since.

“You saw that carry for 80 yards, that was just me running, showing them that I could run the ball,” Abanikanda said after Pitt’s Pro Day. “But now, I’m a complete back, I can do anything any coach wants me to do.”

Abanikanda was an All-ACC, All-American running back in 2022, serving as perhaps the best all-purpose weapon in college football, finishing fourth in all-purpose yards (1,805 yards) and second in all-purpose yards per game (164 yards) in college football last season. And he led the nation in total touchdowns (21).

He rushed for 1,431 yards and 20 touchdowns, averaging six yards per attempt and added 146 receiving yards and 228 kickoff return yards. It was a campaign with few historical rivals. It ranks as the eighth-best single-season effort in Pitt history, and his 320 yards and six touchdowns against Virginia Tech broke and tied, respectively, single-game program records.

In his Pitt career, Abanikanda rushed 390 times for 2,177 yards and 28 touchdowns, caught 38 passes for 354 yards and three touchdowns and returned 19 kickoffs for 434 yards and a touchdown.

His 28 career touchdowns also rank eighth in team history, while he’s just one of four Pitt players to rush for at least 20 touchdowns in a single season.

And he opened eyes all throughout his draft process. How did he open more eyes across the country? He recorded times and numbers that would’ve led all running backs in Indianapolis at the NFL Combine. He measured in at 5-foot-10 (and 5/8ths) and 217 pounds.

At 217 pounds, with nearly unmatched speed (an unofficial 4.34 40 time) and explosion (41-inch vertical and 10-foot-8-inch vertical), he possesses a mix of speed and power in a young, lightly-worked body. A big, powerful body, sure, but he hasn’t had much wear and tear.

He wanted NFL teams to know he’s a dedicated, disciplined and humble man on and off the field, but also that he’s not just a runner anymore. He knows what to do in pass protection, and he can catch the football out of the backfield.

In fact, he’s not just a breakaway threat. He can hit home runs on every carry, possessing that true breakaway speed, but he was determined to show that he’s grown into a player who is able to handle the workload of a lead NFL running back.

With Breece Hall also in the mix in New York, Abanikanda should immediately be able to step in an complement the second year back.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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