Israel Abanikanda is fighting an uphill battle to make the NY Jets roster

It's not looking good for Israel Abanikanda
Israel Abanikanda
Israel Abanikanda / Rich Schultz/GettyImages

The NY Jets had high hopes for running back Israel Abanikanda when the team used a fifth-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft on him a year ago. But one year later, Abanikanda already finds himself fighting an uphill battle to remain with the team.

At just 20 years old, Abanikanda was one of the youngest players in his draft class, having not turned 21 until October of his rookie season. Unfortunately for the young running back, opportunities were few and far between in his first year in the NFL.

Abanikanda missed time due to an injury in the summer and never seemed to earn the trust of the Jets' coaching staff. He didn't exactly do much to impress when given opportunities later in the year, either.

That's why it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise that the Jets added some competition to the running back room this offseason, selecting both Braelon Allen and Isaiah Davis on Day 3 of the draft.

It's still early, but based on reports coming out of Jets OTAs and minicamp, Abanikanda already appears to be on the outside looking in on the team's roster bubble.

Where did it go wrong for the NY Jets and Israel Abanikanda?

So, what happened? How did the Jets go from being excited about Abanikanda's potential to almost ready to give up on him over the course of one year? It ultimately boils down to two major reasons.

The first reason is directly Abanikanda's own doing. The Jets' coaching staff didn't trust Abanikanda as a pass-blocker or pass-catcher in 2023 and his ball security issues were also seen as a serious problem.

The Jets hoped that Abanikanda could carve out a role on special teams, possibly as a kick returner, but he fumbled one of his only two kick return attempts and was removed from that role. He struggled mightily in pass protection and registered two drops on just 11 targets.

If your team doesn't trust you to hold onto the ball, to catch passes, or to block, it's going to be really hard to see the field. It doesn't help matters if you average just 3.2 yards per carry on the ground, either.

Of course, some of that can be attributed to an inept and injury-riddled Jets' offensive line, but Abanikanda did himself no favors with his performance last season.

The other factor is outside of his control. The Jets appear to be shifting to more of a power-run offense with the additions of Tyron Smith, Morgan Moses, and John Simpson on the offensive line.

Rookies Braelon Allen and Isaiah Davis are both excellent fits in that scheme, but the same can't be said for Abanikanda, who was drafted with the previous zone-blocking scheme in mind. That scheme switch is partially what contributed to Michael Carter's departure a year ago.

All of that is to say that the writing is unfortunately on the wall. Abanikanda was working behind both rookies and even saw fewer reps with the first-team offense than the newly-signed Tarik Cohen, who hasn't appeared in an NFL game in four years, this spring.

It's rare to see rookies already surpass an incumbent player on the depth chart in OTAs and minicamp, especially two Day 3 picks. That doesn't bode well for Abanikanda's chances of earning a roster spot this summer.

There's still time for Abanikanda to turn things around, of course. He will technically be competing with Allen and Davis for the primary RB2 role behind Breece Hall in training camp. But he has a lot of things working against him.

Maybe Abanikanda returns to camp this summer and puts together an outstanding training camp and preseason to not only earn a roster spot but also carve out a role on offense. That's still very much a possibility.

But it isn't hard to read the tea leaves here. The Jets don't trust Abanikanda, they seem to really like their rookie running backs, and they don't see the former Pittsburgh standout as a scheme fit anymore.

That's a pretty strong indicator that Abanikanda will be fighting an uphill battle this summer.

This article is part of the "Summer Spotlight" series on The Jet Press, dedicated to highlighting individual players on the Jets roster throughout the summer. Stay tuned for more features as we provide in-depth profiles and insights on various Jets players before the season kicks off.

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