Earlier this month, the Kansas City Chiefs signed running back and kick returner Joe McKnight to the roster. McKnight is an intriguing player who could end up having a big impact for the Chiefs going into the 2014 season.
The New York Jets drafted McKnight in the 4th round of the 2010 NFL Draft. He played 3 seasons in New York, seeing action in 39 games. As a running back, he accumulated 502 total yards on 112 carries, a very solid 4.5 average. He also pulled in 17 pass receptions for 177 yards.
McKnight really made his impact as a kick returner. In 2011, he returned 34 kicks for 1,073 yards for a 31.6 average, and in 2012, he brought back 39 kicks for 1,072 yards, or 27.5 a return. He returned a kick for a touchdown each season.
McKnight comes with his share of baggage though.
The Jets surprisingly cut him in August before the 2013 season. He had some issues in training camp last summer, including flunking his conditioning test. According to Rick Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com, this was only the beginning of McKnight’s travails with the Jets.
He was arrested for unpaid parking tickets, he engaged a fan negatively on twitter, and he gave a brusque interview where he answered 17 questions in just 3 minutes. According to Cimini’s article, McKnight answered 7 of those questions with the phrase “I’m not going to get into that.”
Off the field issues were compounded by McKnight suffering from migraines, and a possible concussion throughout most of the training camp.
The concerns about McKnight’s health and off the field behavior were strong enough around the league that he did not play for anyone during the 2013 season. For a player who has displayed some real talent and value, that is very telling.
John Dorsey and Andy Reid have decided to take a chance with McKnight. They must be hoping a year off improved his health considerably, and that his head injury has cleared up with the time off. They must also think a year away from the game may humble him personally.
If McKnight is healthy, and the off the field issues are behind him, he could be a valuable piece to for the Kansas City Chiefs. It is possible he could take the place of Cyrus Gray as the third string running back behind Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis. He could also replace Quintin Demps as the primary kick returner. It is even possible he might be able to fill the shoes of Dexter McCluster if the Chiefs don’t bring him back for the 2014 campaign.
Demps had a fine season as a returner for Kansas City in 2013, averaging 30 yards a return, with a touchdown, but he didn’t play particularly well in the secondary. Gray has been a nice player when called upon but has not displayed the talent to make one think he is not replaceable. He has only averaged 2.6 yards a carry in limited opportunities over two seasons.
McCluster’s loss would be felt the deepest, as he earned a Pro Bowl spot this year as a punt returner. As a pass receiver, he was below average. He averaged two more yards per punt return than he did per reception, 11.8 to 9.6.
If McKnight can fill all three roles – third string running back, kick returner, and punt returner – then maybe the Chiefs can use the money freed up by not bringing back Gray, Demps, and McCluster to upgrade the secondary and the wide receiver corps.
McKnight is a definite upgrade over Gray as a running back, he may be a slight upgrade over Demps as a kick returner, and it is doubtful he can be as good as McCluster returning punts, but overall, he may be able to fill all three roles.
His signing was a clever one on the part of the management and it could pay big dividends in 2014.