Buffalo Bulletin: The Dawson Knox Problem
On the eve of the 2022 NFL season, just a single day before the Buffalo Bills took on the L.A. Rams, tight end Dawson Knox signed a four-year extension worth up to $52 million. The angels came down, the townsfolk cried out, and Bills fans everywhere rejoiced. Somehow, it would be the last time we heard Dawson Knox’s name this season.
Alright, I’m exaggerating a little bit, but a lot people are disappointed with what we’ve seen from Dawson Knox in 2022. The thing is, there’s very little reason to be. Let’s break it down, shall we?
Let’s start by looking at his stats, and how they compare to this point last season.
|2021 (1st 11 Games)||2022 (1st 11 Games)|
|Yards (Per Catch)||489 (12.23)||327 (9.91)|
Obviously there are a few issues here, but they’re mixed in with some unexpected positives. There’s been an ongoing narrative about a return to his drop issue, but this season he’s putting up the highest catch rate of his career, good for fifth-best amongst tight ends (min. 40 targets). The only glaring negative is his significant reduction in scoring, but there’s an obvious answer there too.
His usage has changed massively, partially out of necessity and partially out of a change in the offense. The necessity is obvious, with a crumbling offensive line giving Josh Allen some of the shortest windows to throw of his career. Josh is doing his best to overcome this obstacle, much like all of his previous ones, but the ever rotating group of protectors around him isn’t helping. Knox is summoned as a blocker for roughly 55% of his time on the field. He’s called upon to help forge running lanes and to keep Allen upright long enough to throw to someone else.
It also seems that tight ends simply aren’t used by Ken Dorsey the way that they were used by Brian Daboll, but the rate at which he runs routes seems to be the same. In 2021, he ran routes on 425 of his 917 snaps (46.35%) and has stayed in that vein in 2022, running 283 on his 614 snaps (46.09%). Knox is getting comparable opportunity to run routes but Dorsey’s offense doesn’t focus on him, opting to attempt to scheme open other receivers. Knox has a use, we saw it last season, but he’s not being put in that position right now.
The Dawson Knox Solution
How do we fix a problem like this? It’s the question on all of our minds as we watched Dawson block, engaged with yet another pass-rusher.
How do we fix this red-zone offense? The query plagued us, as the Buffalo Bills stalled out in the red zone yet again, turning the ball over or settling for a field goal.
If only we were in possession of some kind of stone. A stone for throwing, maybe even one capable of killing a bird. Not just one bird, but two birds? A baffling thought, perhaps, but one worth looking into.
The answers are simple.
In 2021, Knox had a 13.2% target share on offense, which jumped to 17.6% in the red zone. The Buffalo Bills led the league with a 66.28% TD rate in the red zone.
In 2022, those numbers have dropped, as Knox gets only 11.9% or the target share, with a dismal 9.8% share in the red zone. Our red zone offense currently ranks 14th, at a much-regressed 56.52%. Knox is seeing roughly half the targets in the place where he was most useful last season and the offense is scoring less, down from 29.8 points per game last season to 27.8 this year.
Brian Daboll used Knox’s size and found a mismatch against defenders time and time again against smaller defensive backs in those tight windows. With this new-look offense for 2022, perhaps Dorsey should simply look to the past for the solution? In the case of Dawson Knox, it seems new is not always better.
Avoid The Sunk Cost Fallacy
There’s one big untold issue that the current Dawson Knox discussion has brought back; an old friend rearing its hideous head. The Sunk Cost Fallacy. This is the idea that, since we’ve invested so greatly into something, we are obligated to double down to make it worthwhile. Dawson Knox is playing efficiently, but is he doing enough to be worth his $52M price tag?
Cutting our losses or re-evaluating our position with new information is a must, especially if we intend to stay logically consistent. Fans feel as though we need to get him more involved to justify the Buffalo Bills’ financial investment in him, as well as our own emotional investment too. We don’t.
He may be getting paid a lot of money for a less fearsome statline, but he’s playing efficiently. If the team is able to move the ball well and win games on the back of both his route running and blocking, how do we justify changing his usage?
I want Dawson Knox to be involved more in the red zone, but in no way is that related to how big his paycheque is because, at the end of the day, winning is what matters most. We must resolve to do what we believe is best in each game, and leave the roster and salary cap management to the bookkeepers. Money matters, but not more so than using the talented roster we have right now to compete for a Super Bowl.
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The Buffalo Bulletin on Buffalo Fanatics is a weekly editorial by Iestyn Harris. Check back regularly for hot topics, riveting discussion, and, occasionally, some actual insight.
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