Skip to main content

For Jets' Israel Abanikanda, a Rookie Season of Ups & Downs, Learning & Growth

Fifth-Round Rookie RB Took Strength, Gained Confidence from Breece Hall and His Mates in the RBs Room


Israel Abanikanda's exposure as a member of the Jets' running backs room was limited, but his confidence in his second season and beyond with the Green & White, with help from his teammates, is boundless.

"Definitely, I'd say a roller-coaster," Abanikanda told's Eric Allen after the season had concluded, invoking that tried and true NFL metaphor that describes games, seasons and careers. "There was a lot of learning from the lessons and mistakes that I had. I feel like I made strong progress, just learning from my teammates, the vets.

"A lot of ups and downs," he added, "but in a good way."

Abanikanda, the fifth-round rookie out of Pitt by way of Brooklyn, didn't have the sudden impact on the Jets' ground game of, say, second-rounder Breece Hall last year, primarily because Hall was healthy and dynamic for his entire second NFL season.

"Izzy," coming off his very productive college career, offered a summer of promise, He played in all four preseason games, compiled team-leading totals of 113 rushing yards and 150 scrimmage yards, and enjoyed his first NFL start and pro TD against Cleveland in the Hall of Fame Game.

After that, he lined up behind Hall, Dalvin Cook and Michael Carter. He was inactive for the first nine games and totaled 77 offensive snaps, 70 rushing yards and 43 receiving yards after that. But he did a lot of pro learning that will stand him in good stead.

"As a rookie coming in, you're ready to play, you're ready to go," he said. "But it's not just ready to go, ready to play because this is the NFL. Everybody's good. So you've still got to learn and go through challenges to really know that you're really ready for on the field.

"I had a lot of talks with [his fellow RBs], just saying, 'Don't worry, it's you're rookie year, you've got a long future ahead of you.' I kept that in my mind throughout the season and I kept building my motivation and my confidence and learning from them the little details, like from the film room. It kept me mentally strong."

Abanikanda also lived vicariously through Hall's season, when he came to rest after the snows of Foxboro with 1,585 scrimmage yards, fourth in the NFL and second among the league's RBs behind only San Francisco's Christian McCaffrey.

"Oh, yeah, I was happy," Abanikanda said of Hall's haul. "I was cheering him on, the whole team was cheering him on. I was happy to be a part of the running backs room with Breece and be his teammate. We tried to enjoy every accomplishment he had this season all together."

Despite the muted nature of his rookie season, the 5-11, 215-pounder did have some high points. In particular, his showing in the home win over Washington was noteworthy as he amassed season highs with nine carries and 43 yards.

Abanikanda's relationship with his "close buddy" Hall is significant going forward. Carter was waived after nine games and the seventh-year veteran Cook was released before the season finale at New England. Heading into the new season, the RBs room's two top dogs are Hall and Abanikanda.

"We're still saying we've got to race, see who's the fastest," Izzy said with a laugh. "Breece is a great running back, and he's always told me I'm a great running back. I've got so much ahead of me. And I tell him the same thing during games — stay strong, keep going, let's get this touchdown. We both back up each other, and that's the whole running backs room."

"I definitely got a lot of confidence. I was more comfortable toward the end of the season," he said. "Just getting closer relationships with my teammates, soaking up a lot of things. I knew my time was going to come, my opportunity was going to come and I was going to attack it."

And Abanikanda's plan of attack as a Jet and a pro has just begun to intensify.

Related Content