Over the last few weeks, we’ve been looking at each of the Jets draft picks. We’re now looking at each of the undrafted rookies, continuing today with an in-depth look at North Carolina State running back Zonovan “Bam” Knight.
The 21-year old Knight is listed at 5’10” and 209 pounds and set a school record for average yards per carry in his three years at NC State, where he rushed for 2,286 yards and 18 touchdowns, caught 48 passes and returned three kickoffs for a touchdown.
Knight was a four-star running back prospect out of high school and headed to North Carolina State, where he had a productive first season with 745 rushing yards and five touchdowns. He also caught seven passes.
In 2020, he rushed for a career-high 788 yards and 10 touchdowns and also took over kickoff return duties, averaging 26.6 yards per return with one touchdown. He caught 20 passes for 136 yards and was named as a third-team all-ACC selection.
His junior year saw him named as an all-ACC honorable mention as a running back, as he rushed for another 753 yards and three scores and caught 21 passes for 156 yards. He was also named as a first-teamer on special teams after averaging 34.4 yards per kickoff return with two touchdowns.
After opting to enter the 2022 NFL draft, Knight was invited to the scouting combine and performed well at his pro day. However, while some expected him to be a mid-round pick, he went unselected and was picked up by the Jets as an undrafted free agent.
Now let’s take a look at what Knight brings to the table, divided into categories.
Knight has average size and isn’t known as a top level athlete, running 4.58 in the 40-yard dash with a vertical of 31 inches and a broad jump of 114 at the combine. These numbers were disappointing but he improved his 40 time to 4.53 and his vertical to 33 inches at his pro day, where he also put up excellent agility numbers.
Knight didn’t show a lot of positional versatility in college, as it was rare for him to line up in the slot or out wide. He did take a few snaps as a wildcat quarterback and in two-back sets though.
Knight was a consistent runner throughout his college career, as he averaged 5.5 yards per carry in two seasons and 5.4 yards per carry in the other to end up as the school’s all-time leader. In all, he had six 100-yard games, despite only carrying the ball more than 20 times once in his career.
While he perhaps doesn’t make sharp enough cuts to be as elusive as some of the top running back prospects, Knight has good balance through contact and the power to drive for extra yardage.
In addition, he has also showcased the ability to be a decisive north-south runner with a direct style.
Knight has quick feet and his footwork is good to enable him to hit cutback lanes at top speed.
In the open field, he can make tacklers miss and has good awareness and the ability to run away from defenders.
His forced missed tackle rate is good and he breaks plenty of long runs, although it’s notable that he’s been more effective running to the left - presumably because Ikem Ekwonu lines up on that side.
One negative has been fumbles. He had multiple fumbles in each of his three seasons and seven overall.
He did, however, show some improvement in that area in 2021, as he started off by fumbling twice in the first three games but then readjusted and didn’t fumble again.
Knight can be effective in short yardage situations with his ability to hit the hole hard and his quick feet that enable him to find soft spots in the defense.
However, it’s notable that he rushed for 10 touchdowns as a sophomore but only three as a junior. Those reps tended to go to the bigger Ricky Person Jr. instead.
Knight impresses with his pass catching ability, although he didn’t have a touchdown catch in college and the vast majority of his production came on screens and dump-offs.
On this play, he shows his ability to adjust to the flight of the ball as he comes down with a tough back shoulder catch.
He does something similar here, after getting half a step on a linebacker while running a wheel route.
Knight didn’t drop any passes in 2021, but had dropped six in his first two seasons, including this potential touchdown.
Knight has some decent experience of staying in to block and his pressure rates were reasonably solid, although his hand placement needs some refining. He only gave up one sack in each of his three seasons and two of them were carbon copies of one another:
He has been called for offensive holding once during his career while blocking in pass protection.
Knight was a dynamic return man in college, with three long touchdowns as he can use his ability to accelerate up to full speed, bounce off contact and change direction to good effect:
He hasn’t returned punts, but did see brief action covering kicks and rushing punts while in college.
As a runner, Knight displays good patience and vision, both in terms of picking a running lane and once he gets out into the open.
He also shows good instincts as a pass catcher on this play, as he gets himself to an open area downfield when the play is extended.
Knight is regarded as a good teammate with a strong work ethic, good toughness and character and no off-field issues. You can see his determination and effort in the way that he runs the ball.
His on-field discipline has been good with just three penalties in his college career on offense and special teams. One of these was a facemask penalty on a play where he ran for a 36-yard gain.
Knight didn’t miss any time in college, although he was knocked out of one game only to then show toughness by rushing for 139 yards in the following game against Clemson.
Last season, he underwent shoulder surgery during the spring, although he was healthy in time for the start of the season.
The Wolfpack’s running game primarily employed zone blocking schemes when Knight was in college, although some draft analysts feel he could be even more effective in a gap or power scheme. He’ll need to be good at both to succeed with the Jets.
None of the current Jets roster have played with Knight in the past.
Knight’s film looks pretty good and he could have a legitimate shot at a roster spot this offseason. He’ll be competing with the likes of La’Mical Perine and Ty Johnson, whom the team may have soured on. However, with Michael Carter and Breece Hall ahead of him (along with Tevin Coleman, probably), he would probably only get the chance of being a major contributor early on if there are injuries.
His ability to return kicks could be another route towards earning a role. Braxton Berrios did well in that role last year, but if he continues to play an important role on offense as he did at the end of last season, the Jets may look to take this off his plate.
For Knight to be successful, he may need to improve his ball security, tighten up his pass protection techniques and further develop his skill-set as a pass catcher. However, he’s a talented runner and the Jets should have a solid running game this season so he could produce well if given a shot.