Dawson Knox doesn’t go out of his way to seek attention.
So the Buffalo Bills tight end was a little surprised – and a bit shy – about all the recognition he got for his “beast mode” run-after-catch play that helped the team beat the Cincinnati Bengals two weeks ago.
The NFL Network’s “Good Morning Football” show gave the play its weekly “Angry Run Award.” And show co-host Kyle Brandt did a “Rambo” impersonation while showing the play, because Knox happened to wear a “Rambo, First Blood” T-shirt in the locker room after the Bengals game.
“That was just over the top,” Knox said, laughing, this week as he prepared for Sunday’s game in Tennessee. “I’m not into all that flashy, crazy stuff. I think he does a great job with his interviews. It was fun to watch, and it made me laugh. But my friends know I don’t like getting called Rambo. But I’ll let him take it and run with it.”
It’s looking like Knox better get used to attention. The rookie tight end has made a highlight play in three consecutive games and continues to exceed the expectations that come with being a late third-round draft pick.
🤬#AngryRuns this week was an ALL-TIMER.🤬
— GMFB (@gmfb) September 24, 2019
Knox had three catches for 58 yards in the loss to New England, including 21- and 19-yarders that came against tight coverage from Patriots safety Patrick Chung. The first was from Josh Allen, the latter from Matt Barkley.
“I think now that I’ve been able to make a play or two I feel pretty comfortable with where I’m at,” Knox said. “The timing between me and Josh, we’ve gotten on the same page. Me and Matt even at the end of the last game were able to connect a few times. I just run every route as if the ball’s coming to me. When it does, I try to make the best of the opportunity and get as many yards as I can.”
Knox has eight catches on 13 targets for 144 yards, an average of 18 yards per catch. He is second among rookie tight ends in receiving yards beyond Detroit's T.J. Hockenson, who has 166 yards on 11 catches.
This might be a good week to get Knox even more involved, and to use more two-tight-end sets. The Titans have one of the better three-man cornerback trios in Adoree Jackson, Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler. They rank eighth in defending 11 personnel sets this season, according to Sharp Football, and they’ve been effective blitzing out of six defensive back sets, which they use at times against three wide receivers.
The Bills have used 12 personnel (two TEs) on 11 plays a game, News charts show. A few more this week might be in order.
Expectations were uncertain for Knox to start the season, given the fact he caught only 39 passes with no touchdowns for his college career at Ole Miss.
“I definitely won’t speak on Ole Miss’ coaching staff,” Bills veteran tight end Lee Smith said, laughing. “But it hasn’t been a real big secret to me since I’ve been around the guy that he was going to have success in this league. He’s wired the right way. He’s about the right things. He works his tail off.”
“I know one thing,” Smith said, “as a 22-year-old man who hadn’t scored a touchdown since little league, he came in here like a grown man. He has attacked the ball and he’s made plays when his number has been called. Has he been perfect? No, but none of us have.”
Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll was a little less effusive, as is his custom.
“I think he keeps improving,” Daboll said. “And he’s got athletic ability and a good skill set. So as a young guy that’s only had a few games, he’s a good young player to work with, smart, tough. We just need him to keep improving.”
Besides the 49-yard catch against the Bengals, Knox’s eye-popping plays included: the block in which he put Giants safety Jabrill Peppers on roller skates to free Isaiah McKenzie for a jet-sweep TD; and the 21-yard catch against Chung on which he showed fantastic hands.
“I know I have a fade on that particular play,” Knox said. “Josh did a great job reading man coverage. If there’s no safety over the top, it’s a pretty good opportunity just to get a one on one with a bigger-body tight end against a safety. Chung’s a great guy in coverage, and Josh put it right on the money to where only I had an opportunity to catch it. That’s all you can ask from a quarterback. It was a perfect throw and great protection up front.”
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) September 29, 2019
Knox grew up a Titans fan in the Nashville suburb of Brentwood, Tenn.
“The stadium’s 10 minutes from my house back home,” Knox said of the Titans’ Nissan Stadium. “We never had season tickets but I grew up a basketball and a football fan.”
“I loved Frank Wycheck,” Knox said of the former Titans’ tight end. “I remember loving watching Jevon Kearse play. They called him the Freak. And Blaine Bishop. I actually have his signed jersey and gloves from when I was like 5 years old. My parents said I used to love watching him because he’d hit someone.”
Titans coach Mike Vrabel, who met Knox on a pro day visit, is a Knox fan.
Said Vrabel: “Athletic, a grinder, a local kid here who played quarterback, walked on at Ole Miss, played as a walk-on, felt like he deserved a scholarship, so, it gives you a little idea about his background, I think his toughness. Really, he’s turned into a really good receiving tight end. I think he’s improving as a blocker, but I think he’s emerging a lot.”
Knox credits Smith with helping his blocking technique, which has helped him stay on the field. Knox has played 54% of the snaps.
“He’s been absolutely crucial to my development here, and he and coach Boras do a great job,” Knox said, referring to tight ends coach Rob Boras. “I feel night and day comfortable with my blocking compared to six months ago. I want to be able to do everything they ask me to do really well so I don’t have to get taken out on certain plays.”
As for the attention he got for wearing a Rambo T-shirt, Knox said it was just a coincidence. He doesn’t wear the shirt regularly.
“I just wore that T-shirt because the movie came out that weekend,” he said. “I’m a huge Rambo fan – of the original movie. I haven’t seen the new one yet.”
“It was cool hearing from some people after that, but it made me consider wanting to maybe get a new phone."