In writing up my top three rookie RBs, I mentioned that I viewed the 2023 RB class as both top-heavy and deep. What I meant by that is there is a clear upper tier to this RB class. His name is Bijan Robinson. Robinson is such a good prospect that he alone represents a huge chunk of the overall value of this rookie class – not just at RB but all positions.
But this crop of rookie RBs doesn't have much of a middle class. In my estimation, only two other backs, Jahmyr Gibbs and Zach Charbonnet, have profiles worthy of 1st-round rookie picks.
But once we move into 2nd-round types, the 2023 RB class is pretty fun. It's loaded with prospects who will look very exciting in the right landing spot or with enough draft capital. Sure, there aren't a ton of RBs worth spending up for this year, but the class is also loaded with RBs who make for great 2nd-round rookie picks and late-round best ball dart throws.
To be clear, everyone in this group has some substantial red flags, and all but one looks at risk of falling to Day 3. Therefore, were any of these prospects going in the top 40 RBs, they would be pretty easy to fade. But at the same time... none of them are. With ADPs of RB46 and later, it's much easier to dream on them as 2023 league winners without worrying about their downside.
Tier 4 - High-Quality Dart Throws
At a Glance
Israel "Izzy" Abanikanda had an outstanding 2022 season where he flashed serious breakaway ability. He confirmed his straight-line speed and burst with an elite Pro Day. After that showing, he looks far more likely to be selected on Day 2 of the draft. He profiles as a potential three-down back with good size and solid receiving skills. But with just one productive college season on his résumé, he also has a low floor.
Abanikanda played three seasons at Pittsburgh but didn't fully break out until his true junior season. Fortunately, his 2022 season was spectacular. He rushed 239 times for 1,431 yards and 20 TDs, adding 12 receptions for 146 yards and one TD.
And although Abanikanda wasn't that involved as a receiver, he had solid receiving efficiency, posting a 0.99 YPRR that bests Zach Charbonnet's 0.86, Tank Bigsby's 0.86, and Roschon Johnson's 0.91. Those three prospects are seen as potential three-down NFL backs, and Abanikanda should be viewed in the same mold.
The idea of Abanikanda having a three-down workload is very exciting – because he is exceptionally athletic. At his Pro Day, he ran a 4.39 40 with a 41-inch vertical and a 128-inch broad jump. According to Kent Lee Platt's RAS scores, he is the most athletic RB in the entire class. His numbers also look startlingly similar to Bijan Robinson's.
4/11/23 update - Abanikanda's 40 time has since been adjusted to 4.45 on ras.football and around the industry. But 10-yard split has been adjusted down from 1.54 to 1.5. As a result, his RAS dropped slightly to 9.61, but he remains a very similar athlete to Bijan Robinson.
And while it's not ideal that Abanikanda only had one dominant college season, that seems much, much less concerning when you realize how young he is. Izzy Abanikanda is extremely, double-check-Google-before-publishing young. He doesn't turn 21 until October.
I care more about age and experience for WRs than for RBs, but youth has still been a minor bullish indicator for RBs over the years. And in this case, it's helpful to remember that although Abanikanda totaled just 106 yards in 2020, he played 3-of-6 of those freshman games at just 17 years old.
Abanikanda has no glaring weaknesses in his profile, making it easy to imagine him as a do-everything back in the NFL. But he also didn't excel in any particular area either. He was a solid tackle-breaker on a per-touch basis but didn't get a big career workload, so his elusiveness per game actually looks like a minor red flag.
His breakaway ability is a similar story. His 39% breakaway percentage isn't terrible, but given that he didn't see much usage early in his career, it's disappointing he didn't flash more home-run ability before 2022.
Fortunately, in 2022, when his workload spiked, he jumped to a much more impressive 44% breakaway percentage. He also posted a very strong 57 breakaway yards per game.
Abanikanda's career stats aren't that impressive, but his 2022 season definitely was. How much you like him will partially depend on how much you buy the idea that the 20-year-old is an emerging talent rather than a one-hit wonder.
- Trey Sermon
- Cam Akers
- J.K. Dobbins
- Joshua Kelley
Seeing an elite athlete like Abanikanda comp to FB Trey Sermon is a little jarring. But Sermon's pre-draft workout numbers were impressive.
Fortunately, Abanikanda is much faster than Sermon at top speed. And a much faster Sermon would probably be a good RB, given his impressive tackle-breaking chops in college. Still, while Sermon isn't an especially close comp, it's not an auspicious way to start the list.
Cam Akers and J.K. Dobbins are fairly weak comps. Both were 2nd-round picks. Even after crushing his Pro Day, Abanikanda is unlikely to move into the 50-60 range of the draft. It's more likely that he will end up in the 3rd round. But both Akers and Dobbins had similar YPRR and breakaway percentages to Abanikanda. And like Izzy, they entered the league very young. Akers didn't turn 21 until after the NFL Draft, and Dobbins played most of his rookie season at 21.
Joshua Kelley is a weak comp, partially because he isn't nearly as athletic. But he did show similar efficiency to Abanikanda in college. If Abanikanda's career numbers end up being indicative of his NFL skill level, a Kelley-like washout isn't out of the question.
Best Ball Outlook
You sickos already burned through Underdog's Big Board tournament, which means I now only have Superflex ADP to work with from the biggest best ball provider. So I'll be using positional ADP rather than overall ADP from now on.
Despite jumping in price after his spectacular Pro Day, Abanikanda remains just RB59 in Underdog's Superflex ADP. He's not free anymore, but he's still going 12 RB spots behind Devon Achane. And while Abanikanda definitely has more risk of falling to Day 3 than Achane, his odds of working as a three-down back are much higher.
Abanikanda isn't the only back in this ADP range who we can make this argument for. But his elite athleticism makes his upside scenarios the most exciting of that group.
Best Ball Recommendation
Target in the Achane/Spears pocket of drafts if needed. Priority target if he remains at a discount to those RBs.
2nd-round rookie pick