There are always prospects who, after perhaps not putting up huge numbers during their college careers, suddenly begin attracting attention during the pre-draft process thanks to athletic gifts they were not able to adequately showcase in school. One such player in 2019 could be Ole Miss tight end, Dawson Knox.
Knox’s numbers don’t exactly jump off the page. Whether from last year or his entire time with the Rebels. But this is a young man who is still learning his position, after beginning his time at Ole Miss as a quarterback. This is also a young man whose athleticism cannot be overlooked.
The College Years
Knox came out of high school as a dual-threat quarterback, with scholarship offers from Air Force, Austin Peay, and Cornell. He chose instead to try his hand at Ole Miss, but this brought an end to his QB days. Knox was converted to TE, where he plied his trade the last two seasons. Knox’s 2018 numbers — only 15 receptions for 284 yards — are a little bit disappointing. The Rebels had a pass to run ratio of 1.06 last season, which should have meant more opportunities for pass catchers. Knox was only able to command a 5.3 percent share of the team receptions, as well as 6.8 percent of the team receiving yards.
The Rebels do boast at least one stud wide receiver in A.J. Brown. Brown has eclipsed 1,200 yards in each of the last two seasons. Even so, it would have been nice to see a little more from Knox. He had a single reception in four games last season and only had more than two once. Then he posted a 3-28 line in his final game against Mississippi State. Knox did have two five reception games in 2017, with 5-72 against LSU and 5-73 against Kentucky. Thirty-two of his career receptions came against SEC opposition, along with 457 of his yards.
Another huge knock against Knox was his touchdown scoring — he didn’t do any of it. It isn’t often that a player with an allergy to the end zone in college suddenly develops a taste for the paint in the pros.
A lot has been written about Knox as an athletic specimen. This is befitting a player who at one time was expected to operate as a running quarterback. He stands 6 feet 4 inches tall and tips the scales at 250 pounds. Being a former QB has helped Knox understand route assignments. He has earned praise as a route runner. Ole Miss deployed Knox in multiple spots, from inline to the wing and the slot and back again.
Prior to the 2018 season, Jon Ledyard acknowledged that Knox brought rare size, length, and athleticism to the TE table. But Jon also noted Knox’s deficiencies as a blocker, struggling against defensive ends. In the ground game, Jon felt that Knox needed to
address his opponents with more tenacity … sometimes (he) hangs back and waits for them to make a move.
Writing at the end of the season, Matt Waldman noted that Knox was a “patient blocker”, who
takes good angles to his assignment and delivers with technique, leverage, and strength.
This could indicate that Knox has improved technically. But he may still skirt the border between proactivity and reactivity as a run blocker. As history tells us, blocking is the major stumbling block for many rookie TEs. If Knox wants to get on the field, he needs to show he can be trusted to do it.
Talent and willingness to learn can assist with the blocking, but nature has already blessed Knox with dazzling athleticism. He was clocked at a staggering 4.59 40-yard dash during the summer. He benched 350 pounds and unleashed a 37-inch vertical. These factors are all incredibly encouraging, especially with regard to the combine measurable tree created by Kevin Cole in his look at the Combine Drills that Matter for TEs.
If teams go into the draft looking for an old school mountain of granite who can dominate as a run blocker, then they will not consider Dawson Knox for very long. But if teams are set at this spot, and are in the market for a pass-catching weapon, one who is faster than anything bigger and bigger than anything faster on defense, then Knox will be of supreme interest to them. Matt Bush of USA Today wrote in November that Knox would make for “an ideal combination with a traditional inline TE.”
One easy comparison at this early stage will be Evan Engram, another former Rebel who has shown he could contribute to an NFL offense as a rookie while not exactly blowing anyone away with his blocking. Engram was a lot more productive in college than Knox, however. Engram had 65 receptions for 926 yards and eight touchdowns in his last season in school. These single-season numbers dwarf Knox’s entire career. That lack of even a single visit to the end zone is a major red flag.
However, there is an awful lot to like about Knox, and what he could become. Assuming Knox tests up to his numbers, he will be a player who will rise up draft boards this spring. Even accounting for his weaknesses, Jon Ledyard believed back in August that Knox has first-round potential. He certainly did nothing last fall to harm this perception, although he could have done a lot more to help it.