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90 players in 90 days: Tight end Dawson Knox

The third-year tight end has a lot to prove this season

NFL: Buffalo Bills Training Camp Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

When the Buffalo Bills drafted Dawson Knox in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft, they were banking on a raw player making strides to his game. A third-round pick is serious draft capital for any team and, historically, the Bills haven’t spent much of it on tight ends. The last time Buffalo selected a tight end as early as they did Knox was in 2005, when Buffalo took Kevin Everett in the third round.

Knox has shown flashes of athleticism, but he has yet to play consistently in an otherwise potent Buffalo offense. Can he take the next step this season? Will he have that opportunity?

In today’s installment of “90 players in 90 days,” we’re talking about Dawson Knox.

Name: Dawson Knox

Number: 88

Position: TE

Height/Weight: 6’4” 254 lbs

Age: 24 (25 on 11/14/2021)

Experience/Draft: 3; selected by Buffalo in the third round (No. 96 overall) of the 2019 NFL Draft

College: Ole Miss

Acquired: Third-round draft choice

Financial situation (per Spotrac): Knox enters the third year of his rookie deal, a four-year pact worth a total of $3,521,600. In 2021, Knox carries a salary cap hit of $1,085,545. The Bills are responsible for a dead-cap charge of $411,090 if they release or trade him.

2020 Recap: Knox once again was the Bills’ starting tight end, and he saw a reduced role in the offense in his second season. That reduction can be attributed to a number of things, but two stand out: Stefon Diggs dominated in terms of overall targets, for starters, and then there was Knox’s time on the COVID-19/reserve list in the middle of the season. He also missed time due to a calf injury and a concussion. In the regular season, Knox caught 24 passes for 288 yards and three touchdowns on 44 targets. All of those numbers were less than his rookie output except for the touchdown number. In the playoffs, Knox was more productive, catching ten passes for 65 yards and two touchdowns on his 13 targets.

Positional outlook: While reports swirled for months that Zack Ertz would be part of the positional group, that trade never came to fruition, so Knox is joined by Jacob Hollister, Nate Becker, Quintin Morris, and Tommy Sweeney at his positional group. Reggie Gilliam was listed as a tight end until training camp opened, but he has reclassified as a fullback.

2021 Offseason: Knox is healthy and he participated in OTAs. He is in camp.

2021 Season outlook: When I think about Knox, I think about a guy who looks the part but hasn’t quite come through. Then, I step back and think about how little actual time the young man has spent at the position. He played 17 college games at tight end; he’s played 31 professional games at the position. He missed time last year with a head injury and a debilitating virus that affects people in more ways than one (and potentially in more ways than we know). I watched another elite athlete, Yoan Moncada of the Chicago White Sox, come back from COVID-19 last season and play lethargic baseball for the duration of the season. Perhaps Knox was bothered more than we know following his diagnosis. Perhaps he’s just inconsistent, and all he’ll ever be for the Bills is a safety valve/fifth option in the passing game. Or perhaps this is the year where he stays healthy and puts it all together, allowing his ridiculous natural athleticism to shine. Admittedly, that’s a ton of speculation with little substance, but predicting player development in July isn’t exactly a science. Given the talent Buffalo has at the receiver position, Knox’s overall value is probably capped, but if he were to catch 40-50 passes for 600 yards and seven touchdowns? Those may not be “elite” numbers, but in the context of this offense, that would be tremendous. If Knox becomes a more consistent catcher of the football, he’ll take that next step naturally.