Joe McKnight is a posterboy for patience. Many gave up on him after his first rookie minicamp in 2010 in which he reportedly was terribly out of condition. Things did not improve during an ugly preseason where he was almost cut, which would have been unusual for a fourth round rookie. He ended up on the bottom of the depth chart and was handed over to Mike Westhoff. He even saw time working with the defense when injuries depleted the secondary. Slowly he worked his way back into the team's good graces. He got his break midway through 2010 when injuries pressed him into duty as a punt gunner. He eventually had a breakout game Week 17 against the Bills.
McKnight did a bit of everything this year. He blocked a punt Opening Night against Dallas that was returned for a game tying touchdown with five minutes to go. It was a sign of things to come. He took over as kickoff returner for Antonio Cromartie Week 4 a week after a disastrous Cromartie muffed kickoff proved to be a bad turning point. He ended up leading the league in return average. Against Baltimore, he actually got some time on defense as a blitzer and pressured Joe Flacco, who rushed a pass that turned into an interception.
It was not a perfect year for Joe. He really struggled catching punts when the team stuck him back there, culminating in a costly muff against the Patriots in November. He also was less productive as a returner as the year progressed.
All in all, though, it was an excellent year for somebody many had given up on. The only real problem was a lack of touches on offense. Joe showed how explosive he could be on kickoffs, but aside from two weeks when injuries forced him into action netting him 27 touches on offense, he had 29 touches. At 5'11" and 205 pounds, he might not be built to take a consistent pounding 20 times a game between the tackles, but a struggling offense could have surely found more opportunities to get him the ball in space on screens and use his blazing speed to run him outside more trying to get the edge. LaDainian Tomlinson saw the bulk of work in this role even though McKnight looked more explosive. LT had some runs stopped that McKnight would have broken for extra yardage.
Considering McKnight's small fourth round salary, I do not think there is much to debate about whether he should be back. He showed flashes of what he is capable of doing against Denver, when injuries to Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson forced him into the lineup. He finished with 121 combined rushing and receiving yards. He only averaged 3.7 yards on the ground, but sometimes stats do not tell the whole story. The Jets got no push up front on that. Not all two yard gains are made equally. If a back is caught in the backfield and somehow finds a way to turn a loss of one into a gain of two, it is a productive run. Joe had those kind of short runs. Overall, I am surprised by how well he reads his blocks, and I think his pass protection has come a long way.
I vote stay. How do you vote?