Dawson Knox wasn’t going to spend any more time in college.
Knox graduated from Ole Miss in December and still had a year of eligibility left. He could have returned to campus for one more season but declared for the draft instead.
He was overshadowed at Ole Miss playing in an offense with receivers D.K. Metcalf (second round pick), A.J. Brown (second round pick) and Demarcus Lodge (signed with Tampa Bat post-draft). It made sense to stay another year. In fact, Knox never even caught a touchdown in college.
Despite the lack of certain college statistics, the Bills were more than happy to take a chance on Knox’s potential.
The Bills grabbed Knox with the No. 96 pick in the third round of the 2019 NFL draft by trading picks No. 112 and 131 to acquire a second third-round pick. A former walk-on at Ole Miss, Knox has now been compared to the likes of two-time Pro Bowl selection Kyle Rudolph and some scouts believe he has the opportunity to cement himself as a long-time starter for Buffalo.
“A lot of guys don’t have to go into college knowing that they have to earn every single thing,” Knox said. “And I just had to go in with the mindset that I am going to outwork everybody because no one was going to give me anything.”
The 6-4, 257-pound frame he has today was not nearly the same as when he entered Ole Miss.
Knox played quarterback in high school. He had offers to play quarterback from Air Force, Austin Peay and Cornell, but he wanted to play at a higher level. He knew going to Ole Miss would force him to play tight end.
There was only one problem – he was just 210 pounds.
“I walked on having never played a down of tight end in my life,” Knox said on One Bills Live last week. “I was trying to block SEC defensive linemen and that was an eye-opening experience. I had no idea what I was doing”
Not only did Knox not have the size, he had major competition at the position. Evan Engram, a former first round pick now with the New York Giants, was a first-team All-American during his freshman year.
Knox failed to see the field in his first season and was redshirted. In his redshirt freshman year in 2016 he appeared in six games – strictly on special teams.
While learning the finer points of his new position on the field, Knox went to work in the weight room off the field. He added over 30 pounds to his frame. He believed his work with Engram for two seasons helped hone his craft.
Over the next two seasons as a starter, Knox hauled in 39 passes for 605 yards and a gaudy 15.5 yards per catch.
In 2017, he produced a single-season best 24 receptions for 321 yards and was nominated for the Burlsworth trophy – an award given annually to the nation’s most outstanding player who began his career as a walk-on. The following season he was nominated for the Mackey Award for the best tight end in the country.
NFL Draft analyst Lance Zierlein called Knox a “workout freak-daddy.”
“Talent wise there wasn’t much difference between he and T.J. Hockenson who went number eight overall to Detroit,” said Jim Nagy executive director of the Senior Bowl. “Dawson can block, he’s a really tough kid, he’s got a great body type for the position.”
Knox planned to play in the Senior Bowl in January but was forced to pull out of the game due to an injury.
Knox doesn’t believe it is his physical attributes, like his 4.57 forty time, sets him apart from other tight ends. He feels his best edge comes on the mental-side of the game.
“Playing quarterback was one of my biggest advantages,” Knox said. “Because you just read the defense differently, you have to look at what everybody’s doing. You try to look at the entire concept and changes from each person’s role.”
Knox knows how long and far corners and linebackers will drop into coverage. It aides when he’s trying to run routes different ways. He understands quarterback progressions and Knox says it really helped his learning process.
“He’s one of the guys that I was able to see live this year,” general manager Brandon Beane said. “And he showed enough stuff that I think will translate to our game. I do think he’s a dual player. He’s not just a pass receiver. He’s not just a blocker. I think he’s a guy that will improve.”