Two of my favorite things to do with my time are fishing and devy fantasy football. In both hobbies, I use specific metrics, tools, and knowledge to go after my target. One of my favorite ways to fish is by deep dropping, which is the inspiration for this article. I love digging deep and trying to find that breakout player that few people recognize.
Israel Abanikanda (5’11” and 200 pounds) is not a household devy name yet but let’s take a look at his background. When reviewing his numbers from last year, they won’t jump out at you like other high school running back devy targets. “Izzy” accumulated 1,350 yards and 20 TDs on 136 carries for an efficient 9.9 yards per carry. His average of 36 yards per return could afford him an early opportunity for early season impact. More on that later.
Per 247Sports’ composite rankings, Abanikanda is a 3-star athlete from Brooklyn. He’s the 30th-ranked running back, who carried offers from Boston College, Temple, Duke, Tennessee, Syracuse, Rutgers, Purdue, and Pitt, which is where he ultimately committed.
It can be difficult finding these deeper drops with the metrics to warrant reasons why they should be targeted in devy drafts (or, at the very least, be on your radar). In this case, it surprises me that Abanikanda did not receive more attention as a recruit given his measurables and accomplishments.
At Abraham Lincoln HS, Abanikanda was a track and field star as well. He was a two-time gold medalist in the 100-meter in the NYC Mayor’s Cup Race and a bronze medalist in the NYSPHSAA state championship. While not as fast as Jonathan Taylor (who posted a 10.49-second 100-meter time), Izzy does have great speed, as evidenced by his 10.69 100-meter time.
In addition to winning running back MVP at The Opening Regional in Florham Park, N.J. in April 2019, Abanikanda won the Gatorade High School Football Player of the Year award for New York in early December. He committed to Pitt just a few weeks later.
On tape, it’s easy to see that Abanikanda plays bigger than his current size. You won’t see him brought down by arm tackles and he doesn’t shy away from contact. He isn’t a shifty running back, but he still has the ability to force missed tackles. And once he does that, he shifts gears and accelerates quickly. Abanikanda has flashed good hands and sets up his blocks well in the screen game.
RISING TO THE SURFACE
Pittsburgh’s rushing offense was terrible last year, averaging 3.5 yards per carry and ranking in the triple digits for rushing attempts. Offensive coordinator Mark Whipple attributed some of that to injuries in the backfield with multiple players missing games. Head coach Pat Narduzzi was more blunt, basically saying the Panthers didn’t have any current playmakers in the backfield and were forced to throw the ball more. It sounds like there is ample opportunity for a true freshman with breakaway speed to step in and rise to the top of the depth chart.
Senior A.J. Davis has the most experience and is returning to Pitt after posting 530 yards on 127 carries. Sophomore Vincent Davis and junior running back Todd Sibely Jr. are the other returning players who carried the rock last year, and they don’t inspire me much. The path is paved for Izzy to make a major impact his freshman year. While he might not start the season atop the running back depth chart, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him returning kickoffs early. That could be just the precursor he needs to get some carries by late September/early October.
Abanikanda flashed his speed early in Pitt’s spring drills. In one of the few practices held before the COVID-19 outbreak, he broke off a 70-yard tocuhdown run.
As with any deep target, devy gamers need to keep things in perspective. I’m not advocating you draft Abanikanda in the first or second round of your devy startups. He’s someone that should be kept on the radar or taken as a late-round flyer for those who want to get ahead of an expected ADP jump next year.