Izzy Abanikanda may be in the NFL now, but that doesn’t mean Pitt’s running back room expects any fall off.
The PwC SMU Athletic Forum agrees, naming Rodney Hammond Jr. as one of the candidates for its preseason watchlist for the 2023 Doak Walker Award, which is given to the most outstanding running back in college football.
Hammond, who missed time with a lower-body injury last season, thrived when he was used either in support of or spelled Abanikanda throughout the 2023 season.
— Pitt Football (@Pitt_FB) August 9, 2023
Hammond still needs to work on his pass protection, but he’s everything you could want in a modern back. He doesn’t have Izzy’s explosive speed, but his vision and cut-on-a-dime ability is cerebral. He’s expected to make a jump in the 2023 season.
“Rodney’s DNA is different than Izzy’s DNA,” Andre Powell said in March. “I mean, Izzy is 217 pounds and ran a 4.3 40, I’m not for sure Rodney is that, but Rodney is a really talented back and he’s gotten a lot better.”
While Hammond is just entering his third season in the program, he already boasts 211 carries for 965 yards (4.6 yards per) and 10 touchdowns and 14 receptions for 130 yards and two more touchdowns. And there’s a different expectation now that he’s expected to be the guy.
“I got a different mindset this year knowing I gotta lot to take on this year with me coming in being the starter, I got a lot on my back, gotta carry the team,” Hammond said. “I’m more prepared, extra studying time, learning the plays, learning the system even more.”
Hammond racked up a career-high 124 yards and a touchdown against Syracuse last season, taking over for an injured Abanikanda, and he recorded 100 yards of offense and two touchdowns in a Sun Bowl win over UCLA to cap the 2022 season.
He will now lead the running backs room in 2023, forming a trio with C’Bo Flemister and Derrick Davis Jr.
Pitt has not had a Doak Walker Award winner since the honors’ inception in 1990, somewhat surprisingly. Abanikanda was a semifinalist for the honor last season.
The 2023 Doak Walker Award winner will be announced at the College Football Awards Ceremony on Dec. 7 on ESPN.