Joe McKnight has been dealing with unfair expectations since he was a five star recruit coming out of John Curtis Christian High School in Louisiana. By now, mostly everyone reading this probably knows his sob story. From the day he stepped on the USC campus everyone in the greater Los Angeles area expected him to carry the load of the Southern California dynasty and duplicate the highlight reel that Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush left behind. McKnight, to no fault of his own, has been living off of his recruiting legacy since that first day of summer practices and the expectations have followed him since.
There was no exception to this when the Jets drafted him in the 4th round of the 2010 NFL Draft. The common fan expected Joe to make a mockery of AFC defenses and their coordinators. However, McKnight was a disappointment for Jets fans as soon as he came to camp out of shape.
Since that disappointing camp, there has been a steady rise in his play. He worked hard to get in shape and become one of the more reliable special teams players for the Jets as a gunner on the punt team. Given the chance to start, McKnight ripped through a terrible Bills run defense in the last game of the season accumulating 158 of his 189 total yards for the year. It is easy to write off McKnight’s performance on special teams and in the last game of the year, but it would also be wrong. While the fans might not have taken Week 17 seriously, McKnight did, and proved that he is able to be successful on the NFL level given the right opportunity.
This is what Jets fans should expect out of their 4th round picks, hard special teams play, and a mentality to take advantage when given the opportunity to start. Even though this is only his second year, I believe it is a make or break year for McKnight. He has to believe that he can be a key contributor to this team in order to be successful on the field. McKnight’s biggest issue seems to be his nerves and hopefully they will be calmed with a full season under his belt. With a more than capable mentor in LaDainian Tomlinson, McKnight will be able to hone his skills and ease into a role on the Jets offense.
Waiting for a catch…how will McKnight develop without a full offseason? Will he show up focused and in shape? Will he revert back to his old habits? Will he know the playbook and everything else that is asked of him? Can he pick up things fast enough to get significant (8-12 touches) playing time within the first few games of the season. Thankfully, all of these questions will be answered soon enough with the lockout coming to an end. If I were a betting man, I would put my money on McKnight coming into the 2011 season focused and determined to be a vital player in the Jets offense.
Yet, remember Jets fans, he is not going to become Tomlinson in his prime. Readjust your expectations for McKnight from his reputation to a 4th round draft pick and I can almost guarantee you will be pleasantly surprised by his play.