Buffalo Bills

Four Downs with David: Dawson Knox, Quarter Season Review and Outlook

Welcome back to “Four Downs with David.” In this week’s article, we analyze the performance of rookie tight end Dawson Knox through the first quarter of the season and consider how important "Rambo" could be for Allen and the offense going forward.

1st Down: Pure Statistics

Through four games, Knox has collected eight receptions for 144 yards on 13 targets. He has also been on the receiving end of one of only three Josh Allen passing touchdowns. Here are Knox’s ranks on the team in a few key statistical categories:

Receptions – 3rd

Receiving Yards – 3rd.

Receiving Touchdowns – T-1st

Yards per Reception – 1st

Targets – 4th

For tight ends with at least five receptions, Knox is leading the league in yards per catch (18 Y/R). Comparing Knox to other rookie tight ends, he only trails the Lions T.J. Hockenson in receiving yards. He is third in receptions behind a pair of former Iowa Hawkeyes … Hockenson and Noah Fant; both of whom were drafted in the first round.

In 2018, Jason Croom and Charles Clay combined for 443 receiving yards on 43 receptions. While Knox might have a tough time reaching 43 receptions, he should have a very good chance to eclipse Croom’s and Clay’s combined yardage number. Realistically, if the Bills can get 500 receiving yards out of Dawson Knox as a rookie, I would consider the result to be a huge success. Through three games, Knox was Pro Football Focus’s 31st ranked overall tight end for qualifying players.

2nd Down: Playing Time & Usage

Most of Dawson Knox’s box score statistics have materialized over the past two games. Let’s take a look at how his snap count and target count have increased from the start of the season. From a pure snap count perspective, Knox has been on the field for over 50% of the team’s offensive plays in each game thus far. It may have seemed like Knox was not playing much during the first two weeks, but in reality, that feeling likely stems from the fact that he only caught two passes for 19 yards combined in those games. The Bills also had a healthy Devin Singletary in those games, so the competition for touches was slightly higher against the Jets and Giants.

Knox appears to be establishing himself as the clear third option in the passing game, moving ahead of the polarizing Zay Jones. Knox is also proving to be the more efficient player with his targets, hauling in 6 of 7 passes thrown his way over the last two games. Meanwhile, Jones has seen 11 targets over the past two games, but has only been able to catch four of those passes.

Of Knox’s 144 receiving yards on the season, 125 have been racked up in the past two games, while Jones has tallied a modest 37 over the same period. From a blocking standpoint, it is clear that Knox is also extremely proficient. Through three games, Pro Football Focus had Knox graded as their highest ranked run-blocking tight end for players with over 100 snaps. The Bills need to find a way to leverage Knox’s complete skill set, while not completely wearing him out as a blocker. Playing between 50-60% of the snaps seems appropriate for now, while the team can still use Lee Smith in pure blocking only situations.

3rd Down: Integration into the Offense

It is clear to me that the Bills need to establish a third receiving option behind John Brown and Cole Beasley. In the absence of a true alpha receiver, Knox can help the offense become more well-rounded. As mentioned in 2nd down, Brian Daboll and the offensive coaching staff seem to be gaining increasing confidence in Knox. We should not forget that Knox missed a big chunk of training camp with a hamstring injury. This fact is likely another reason why Knox wasn’t overly involved in the passing game during the first two weeks. Josh Allen is clearly developing trust in Knox, as evidenced by the excellent pitch and catch illustrated below against the Patriots.

The tight ends coach for the Patriots from 2014-2016, Daboll coached Rob Gronkowski for two of his four all-pro seasons in the NFL. While I am certainly not ready to compare Knox to a future hall of famer, his physical gifts certainly lend themselves to developing as a truly complete player at the position. Knox is showing enough flashes to make you believe he could ascend into the upper echelon of the NFL’s tight end class. With that said, the coaching staff needs to continue developing his skills and technique, while also ensuring he is consistently part of the offensive game plan. With Brown, Beasley, Knox, and Singletary, the Bills certainly have the makings of special core of skill position players surrounding Josh Allen.

4th Down: Knox should remain the “Starter” even after Tyler Kroft Returns

Knox is already becoming a fan favorite of #BillsMafia, while free agent signing Tyler Kroft remains sidelined with yet another foot injury. The Bills were smart in overhauling the tight end room throughout the course of the off-season, but it is becoming increasingly evident that Knox offers the highest ceiling of any tight end on the roster.

While saying Knox has the highest ceiling of all Bills tight ends is not a hot take, it is my opinion that the Bills should keep the young rookie on the field as much as possible even when/if Kroft returns. Sure, mistakes will happen along the way, but Kroft’s injury has paved the way for Knox to get important playing time in the early stages of the season.

As mentioned in third down, the further integration of the tight end position into the offense may also be a way for the Bills to get their best personnel on the field together. At the expense of Zay Jones, if Kroft proves his health, the Bills may find themselves using Knox and Kroft together on the field, complimenting Brown and Beasley. Knox is proving himself capable as both a run blocker and receiver, and Kroft could mix and match with Lee Smith depending on the in-game situations. The overall point being that Knox should continue seeing increased playing time based on his production through the first four weeks of the season.

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