No. 2: Running Back Israel Abanikanda
Israel Abanikanda might be one of the most exciting players in the NFL in the early going, as he might be the bell cow at halfback while Breece Hall, who appeared to be a blossoming star last season, may need some additional time to recover from ACL surgery.
There's quite a bit of press buzz about how easy it is to find running backs in the NFL these days. Supposedly running backs are interchangeable and if a team loses its first-string studmuffin, they can easily put in their second-string and get equivalent results.
For example, the Browns have Nick Chubb, with 6,341 career rushing yards and a 5.24 yards per carry average, but if he goes down, everyone is fully confident that he can be replaced by Jerome Ford, who has 12 career rushing yards and 1.50 yards per carry. Anyone questioning the depth of the running back room will surely be taken to task on Twitter.
It didn't work that way for the Jets when Hall, who was averaging 5.79 yards per carry over seven games (463 total rush yards or 66 yards/game) went down with an ACL last season. Michael Carter took over as the full-time replacement but produced only 402 rushing yards and 3.53 yards/carry (25.1 yards per game).
Quality does matter. 3.53 yards/carry is just not as good as 5.79 yards per carry. Thus New York media is beginning to question the theory that "all halfbacks are created equal." It's even worse among media members covering the Jets' arch-rival, the New York Giants, who are openly questioning the shabby treatment of Saquon Barkley this offseason.
Hence, the Jets were not satisfied with the new-wave analytics and chose to draft Israel Abanikanda in the 5th round this off-season.
At press time, Dalvin Cook was expected to sign with the Jets, but the deal had not been consummated. If it happens, they will still want to avoid burnout by having a second back to share the load, especially in the early going while Breece Hall may not be ready for full-time employment at the start of the season.
Abanikanda had 1,577 yards from scrimmage last season for the Pitt Panthers, and a 5.99 yards/carry average on the ground, and 12.2 yards per reception. He didn't run the 40 at the Combine due to a hamstring tweak (we don't like that), but he clocked 4.41 at Pitt's Pro Day.
However, his hand size is only eight and one-quarter inches, meaning he might have a tendency to fumble. He only fumbled three times in 2022, however, which is not outrageous.
Here's a guy with tremendous speed, capable of making spectacular plays, but possibly with a concern that he might be turnover prone and he might have a tendency to get injured. He's a perfect match for the Jets.
With the potential to win a starting job (or become part of a tandem with Dalvin Cook) in the early going as Hall continues his recovery, Abanikanda will be highly motivated to break some big runs. He might put the ball on the ground a few times also. He should be capable of big plays both for and against his team. One way or the other, he should be exciting to watch.