The highlights of Joe McKnight’s rookie season were vomit, fumbles, and failed conditioning tests…not exactly what the Jets were hoping for when they traded Leon Washington away and drafted McKnight in the 4th round last year.
There was a flash of light at the end of the tunnel however when McKnight played well in the Jets meaningless regular season finale, posting 158 yards on 32 carries. He also began to become a decent special teams contributor toward the end of the season. Did McKnight learn his lesson and was this a sign of things to come, or are we kidding ourselves getting excited about a game that was treated like the pre-season and a few good reps on the punt team?
Rex Ryan has talked about giving McKnight a bigger role on the offense in his second year. The Jets drafted him to be their long term third down back but he won’t quite have that role this year because of LaDainian Tomlinson’s presence. Regardless, you would think the Jets will have a package of plays to keep him involved on a consistent basis.
McKnight was drafted because of his speed and versatility. He has the ability to be split out and be a threat catching passes out of the backfield. When the Jets decide to attempt a screen pass (which has been a recurring nightmare under Brian Schottenheimer), McKnight should be a frequent target. He should be also getting reps on stretch plays and tosses that take advantage of his speed.
It is has also been revealed that Jim Leonhard will no longer return punts, which opens up an opportunity for McKnight on special teams. There is also a chance he could be the team’s kick returner if Brad Smith doesn’t come back next season.
Nobody is expecting a monster year from McKnight in 2011. Yet, he needs to provide a few productive plays each week on offense, along with becoming a reliable returner. If he can do that, he will take a big step in the right direction towards becoming this team’s long term third down back.