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Why Dawson Knox could catch a lot of balls with the Bills after he didn’t at Ole Miss

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Knox is a serious tight end talent. In Oxford, he just happened to be surrounded by a whole bunch of serious receiver talent.

Ole Miss had arguably the most talented group of pass-catchers in college football in 2018. D.K. Metcalf and A.J. Brown are clear early-round picks, and Damarkus Lodge also has a chance to get drafted.

While those players are a dynamic trio, Ole Miss produced another talented pass-catcher in tight end Dawson Knox. But Knox didn’t have the production you would expect from such a prospect, with 15 catches on 28 targets in 2018.

The Buffalo Bills saw something in Knox, and selected him with the 96th pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Even though Knox didn’t see too many opportunities in college, he was still pretty efficient with his touches. In 2018 he averaged 18.9 yards per catch.

College production is important, but don’t worry too much about Knox’s. Just watch the tape.

Knox may not have seen the ball all that often in college, but he’s still a pretty talented receiving tight end. Knox can do just about everything when it comes to catching the football. He can make plays in traffic deep down the field, secure tough catches over the middle, and run after the catch.

This play against Vanderbilt — his only catch of the day — shows off his ability to high point the ball deep down the field. Vanderbilt has two defenders in the vicinity, but he’s still able to come down with the ball.

Knox also has the athleticism to create plays after the catch, with solid speed and agility showings at the NFL Combine. This play against Arkansas is a great example:

Ole Miss runs him into the flat, and he gets a great block from Lodge to spring him free for more yards. Knox isn’t a speed demon, but he still has enough juice to make defenses pay when he has a crease.

In the few opportunities Knox did get, he showed off the ability to be a legitimate threat as a passing target.

Which begs the following question:

So ... why didn’t Knox get the ball more often?

SB Nation caught up with Knox at the 2019 NFL Combine to try and figure out why a player who is clearly talented wasn’t a bigger piece of the offense.

Knox’s answer was pretty simple: Brown, Metcalf, and Lodge are really, really good.

“Going into the season, I was hoping that it would help me a little more than it did,” Knox said. “I was like, ‘I got three potential first-round guys — definitely two or three top-two-round guys around me — they’re gonna be doubling those guys, so surely I’ll get the ball more.’ But it was still fun playing with guys of that talent.”

One thing working in Knox’s favor as he projects himself to the next level is the fact that NFL offenses feature tight ends more than the offense he played in during college. He’ll get to run more a more diverse set of routes on Sundays than he did for Rebels QB Jordan Ta’amu.

“Five or six of my 15 catches were on the same route. It would just be a little 12- to 15-yard over route over the middle of the field.” Knox said. “I would be the first read on that, Jordan would find a window and fit it in to me. That was probably my favorite because we ran it the most and I had the most production on those plays.”

Knox’s ability to catch the ball over the middle was on display in the 2018 Egg Bowl against Mississippi State. This pass was a little high, but that didn’t stop Knox from bringing down with two defenders in the vicinity. He wasn’t afraid to get hit by Mississippi State’s safeties, showing the fearlessness you’d hope to see out of a tight end:

Of course, NFL teams had similar concerns about his lack of production in college. Knox said he was asked about that during his interviews with teams at the combine.

“Yeah, as you can probably imagine, but honestly I’m not even worried about it because I also have enough film to show that if the ball went to me every time I was open, I’d have as high — or higher — stats than anyone here,” Knox said.

“Also I know that offensive systems in the NFL are going to be a lot different. Which is something that people might think is going to be a concern for me because I’m only running five or six routes a year at Ole Miss,” he added. “That’s probably the thing I’m most excited about, getting into a system that utilizes matchups more. Just an extended route tree that’s going to open up a lot more things for me.”

Despite the concerns about his production in college, Knox still looks like a solid NFL prospect. Ole Miss had a lot of mouths to feed in its offense, and he just ended up being an afterthought at times.

Knox’s ability as a receiver should get him on the field early as a rookie. In a class filled with a few stud tight end prospects, Knox could end up being the best of the bunch.