Running back Israel Abanikanda and the rookie learning curve

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By: IMissFatRex

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

How quickly can Jets rookie running back Israel Abanikanda get up to speed?

The New York Jets selected running back Israel Abanikanda with the 143rd pick in the 2023 NFL draft. Coming off a strong college season that saw Abanikanda rush for 1431 yards on 239 carries (6.0 yards per carry), the Jets selection of Abanikanda was widely praised by Jets fans, garnering an 85% approval rating on Gang Green Nation immediately after the pick.

However, it is important to remember how large the jump from college to the NFL is. This jump not only pertains to the level of competition but also to the depth of the responsibilities that players are asked to hold. In college, a player can often get by with one or two plus traits or skills that overshadow their weaknesses due to the lower level of competition whereas that experience is less common at the NFL level after the quality of competition is increased. An easy example of this phenomenon for the Jets is that of edge rusher Vernon Gholston, who dominated in college on the back of plus athleticism but lacked the technique to record even one sack in the pros.

For Abanikanda, his rushing performance is clearly strong and that is why the Pittsburgh Panthers built their offense around him. However, that production does not mean that he is a complete player, with one glaring flaw in his skillset being his poor pass blocking grades.

Given the Jets recently acquired Quarterback Aaron Rodgers and are expected to make him the focal point of the offense, this preexisting weakness may limit Abanikanda’s year one production. This is because his poor pass blocking makes him a potential risk as Rodgers’ last line of defense, which will likely limit his pass play reps. In turn, this may also limit his rushing reps as a player who is largely on the field for specific types of plays can act as a “tip” that alerts the defense to the play, potentially lessening the play’s chance of success.

With this said, this type of learning curve should be expected for rookies. Rarely are rookies finished products with no glaring holes in the skillset. For Abanikanda, the hope is that he addresses his weaknesses and emerges as a well-rounded playmaker for the offense. Whether that happens in year 1 for Abanikanda remains to be seen, but I encourage fans to be patient in the event it doesn’t for Abanikanda or any of the other Jets’ 2023 draft selections.

Originally posted on Gang Green Nation – All Posts

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