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Can Joe McKnight Make the New York Jets Roster as a Running Back?

June 23rd, 2013 at 11:50 PM
By Donald Lappe

New York Jets running back Joe McKnight has been an enigma throughout his NFL and collegiate football career. Joe McKnight committed to USC as one of the most-hyped high school prospects in the country, drawing comparisons to Marshall Faulk, but went on to have a fairly ordinary tenure with the Trojans. The Jets drafted him in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft, but Joe McKnight struggled with conditioning issues that became a storyline on "Hard Knocks" as the team was profiled by HBO that season. Joe McKnight finally settled in as a kick returner the past two seasons, still used sparingly on offense (and actually saw a few snaps on defense) but is that enough to win a roster spot this year?

'New York Jets Running Backs LaDainlian Tomlinson and Joe McKnight' photo (c) 2011, Marianne O'Leary - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

The New York Jets were very proactive in addressing the running back position this offseason. Running back was one of the few areas that the Jets went out and spent on, signing free agent Mike Goodson and trading for Chris Ivory. Given the financial investment in those two, along with the draft choice given up for Ivory, it's almost certain they will have major roles in the backfield barring any major fallout from Goodson's arrest.

That creates a bit of a pinch on the running back depth chart. Bilal Powell showed some flashes in limited playing time, and he joins Joe McKnight in contention for the third slot. For a team looking to get younger and keep their salary cap number down, Powell represents a younger, cheaper and potentially more productive option to Joe McKnight.

Joe McKnight has been big for the Jets as a kickoff returner, ripping off some big returns the past two seasons. The Jets like to use running backs as kick returners as their schemes are very similar to offensive line schemes and running backs are typically accustomed to reading the same types of blocks up front. Ben Kotwica is expected to move forward with very similar schemes to the ones employed by Mike Westhoff, who was an offensive line coach early in his coaching career and adapted the schemes to his kickoff return team.

The only issue with returning kicks potentially being Joe McKnight's saving grace is that the Jets essentially had a revolving door at kick returner with Mike Westhoff at the helm and were still consistently successful, suggesting scheme played a much larger role in their success. Mike Goodson is actually a candidate to step in and replace Joe McKnight on the kickoff return team as well.

Adding it all up, things don't look promising for Joe McKnight. Sure, the depth chart is far from set and Mike Goodson still has some hurdles to clear, but Joe McKnight is going to have to make some major progress as a running back to remain on the Jets roster this fall.

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Tags: Ben Kotwica, Bilal Powell, Chris Ivory, Football, Hard Knocks, HBO, Joe McKnight, Mike Goodson, Mike Westhoff, New York, New York Jets, NFL, NFL Draft, salary cap, USC

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