It is no secret that this league is, and always will be, a copycat league. It has been that way since the beginning of time. Look at what happened when the Miami Dolphins decided to implement the Wildcat into their offense, and found instant success with it. How many teams saw that and instantly thought, “Hmmm…. I am sure we can do that successfully too!” Why shouldn’t they, though? If you can find a competitive advantage implementing something that worked for someone else, you are doing your job as a coach to put your team in the best opportunity to win.
Looking at Red Zone receivers over time, one common attribute you would often find in successful wide receivers is one thing: SPEED. If you can just outrun the defense, why would you need any other attributes? Just look at what T.Y. Hilton did in season 30, posting a record 2,162 regular season yards. Look at what TyStreak was doing in Kansas City, Bodiford in San Fran, or what Brockers and Hamilton do in Washington. It is just balls to the walls speed. Sure, there have been some historic outliers who were not simply just track stars (Davonte Tribble, for example), but the trend has always been to get that fast guy and let him loose. Do you think Coach Kelly wins all those Super Bowls in M17 without guys like Deontae White and Co.?
Enter the unknown phenom out of Iowa, Jatashun Knox. Picked with the 28th pick in the 5th round, Knox was just an afterthought for most teams. Hell, the Ravens weren’t even that sold on him initially, as he started the season 4th on the depth chart. With Mike Wallace showing his age, the team handed the WR2 reigns over to Knox in Week 2 to see what he could do. And boy did he deliver that season. With 81 catches, 1,452 yards, and 23 TDs, the league took notice. As one full-time coach/part-time rapper in the league noted “23 TDs from a fast wide receiver is cheesy, but this guy is the definition of a red zone threat and is being treated as such.” Sure, the play calling of that historic season has, and forever will be, under scrutiny, but the fact remains that you can find great success in using one of these behemoth wide outs.
Seeing the success, many teams spoke with their scouting departments and told them “FIND US OUR KNOX!” and many have returned back with their guys. Let’s take a look at the Knox Knock Offs around the league:
- Adonis Blackson (LAC, 2022) – A projected late-to-undrafted out of college, the Chargers were not messing around for someone else to grab him later on. They drafted the 6’6 WR out of Rhode Island (with a vertical jump score of 94/99!) with the 4th pick in the 1st round of the 2022 draft. While he has yet to crack 1,000 yards in a season, expect him to burst out this season as Mike Williams was shipped out this past off-season to Chicago.
- Ross Whitted (MIA, 2021) – Also at 6’6, the Dolphins selected Whitted with the 25th pick in the 1st round of the 2021 draft. While he does not have the top end speed of Knox, he has just about the same attributes in catching the ball and getting open. He also recorded a 100 yard TD in his rookie campaign, which is impressive for a guy of his size.
- P.L. Holloman (BAL, 2023) – Wait, I thought the Ravens had Knox. Well they said “If we have one red zone target, why not add another?” With the departure of Breshad Perriman to free agency, Holloman has taken the reigns of the WR2 spot in his sophomore year in the league.
- Irvin Patton (CIN, 2021) – After seeing Knox twice a year for 2 straight seasons, the Bengals also wanted their big WR, taking the then 21 year old Patten with the 5th overall pick in the 2021 draft. Patton may be one the fastest of the big guys, and he finally broke out last season with nearly 1,500 yards and 11 TDs.
- Davante Tracy (NE, 2020) – Speaking of fast, they don’t come much faster than Tracy. At 6’5 and blazing speed, this man entered the league as one of the most intriguing prospects in some time. Is he a speed threat? Red zone threat? Possession? Why not all of them? If Tracy were on some other teams in the league, he could be looking at 2,000 yards every season. Instead, the Patriots have taken a conservative approach, limiting him to 900-1,000 yards per season and letting him stay in and block for a team that averages 3.0 YPC.
- Lindsey Brookins (MIN, 2024) – With only 3 catches in 3 games so far, this may be a stretch. Brookins was a 3rd round pick who only needs to work on his footwork to improve his game. With great hands and good speed, I would expect his usage to increase as the season progresses, and Brookins may eventually take the lead role in Minnesota, if he can quit tripping over his own feet in practice.
Jatashun Knox has helped reshape the position and has finally helped teams look at other attributes aside from speed. There will still be those teams who rely on speed alone, but with more variation available at the position, it makes for more fun when trying to matchup to various teams. Do I want to cover my best CB on their top overall guy? Do I need to matchup on speed? How about my tallest guy guarding their tallest guy? Variation in team make up will always be welcome in my eyes.