The San Francisco 49ers were on hand in the Steel City watching one running back elevate his stock at the University of Pittsburgh Pro Day — as Isreal Abanikanda wowed spectators with his Wednesday, March 29 results.
The 49ers, though, got an early meeting in with the electric running back who ran an unofficial time in the 4.3 second range.
Per Ryan Fowler of The Draft Network, the Niners were among three of the four NFC West teams that spoke with Abanikanda before going off at his Pro Day on the Pitt campus.
“Pitt RB Izzy Abanikanda met with the 49ers, Rams, and Cardinals yesterday evening, per source,” Fowler posted. “Fresh off an outstanding Pro Day this morning where he jumped 41″ in the vert, 10’8″ in the broad, and ran mid 4.3s(u) in the 40, he’s had himself an excellent 24 hours.”
‘Izzy’ Did His Damage Through This Scheme
Abanikanda destroyed defenses through Pitt’s zone scheme — featuring him following the lead of guards and tackles on pull blocks as well as hitting opponents off misdirection runs to fool defenses. That system sounds awfully familiar for 49er fans who watch head coach Kyle Shanahan call the scheme.
Being equipped with electric speed is one thing. But what could win over the 49ers and others outside of his feet? Patience with his blockers. Abanikanda shows just that in letting his main blockers the fullback and left guard (who’s pulling) to set up their blocks by taking his time into the hole…but then plays “catch me if you can” from there:
And, when it comes to dealing with the last line of defense in safeties, Abanikanda shows a twitchy second gear in taking away their angle pursuit and forcing them to dive at his ankle…with the hope that can slow him down. Instead, it only makes him faster after contact.
Abanikanda left Pitt with a career-best 1,431 yards and averaged an uncanny six yards per carry. He additionally scored 20 touchdowns. His best work was on display against Virginia Tech on October 8 — his 320-yard, six-touchdown day. One fan even compared Abanikanda to past Shanahan back and a former 49er in Tevin Coleman.
Will There be Room for Abanikanda?
As much as the 49ers love having a speed option in the backfield, this is becoming a crowded backfield.
Christian McCaffrey will get his first full season as a 49er soon. Elijah Mitchell is healthy. The team has battering ram Ty Davis-Price entering season two. Fellow 2022 rookie Jordan Mason also got some action with 258 yards. Of course, Deebo Samuel is involved in the backfield too.
Although, if anything, perhaps Shanahan and general manager John Lynch can view Abanikanda as a Raheem Mostert or Jeff Wilson type — primarily as the speed option next to “Run CMC” whereas Mitchell, Davis-Price and Mason are more for inside blast and dive runs to wear down defenses.
Abanikanda isn’t considered a complete back, as he wasn’t utilized much as a receiver (only one three-catch game in 2022) and had lapses in picking up blitzing linebackers. Because of this, he falls into the category of being a potential day three find.
But, he’s a product of a zone-heavy offense and became a 1,400-yard back through that system. And the 49ers have a scheme tailored made for this speedy 4.3 back.