New York Jets rookie RB Zonovan Knight is already in the history books
James Robinson was not playing like himself after coming to the New York Jets in a midseason trade to replace Breece Hall. Robinson ranked last among qualified NFL running backs with 1.8 yards after contact per carry across his first three games as a Jet.
New York knew Robinson would not replicate Hall’s home-run-hitting ability. The hope was that Robinson could make an impact as a gritty runner between the tackles who can get tough yards to keep the offense ahead of the chains. He wasn’t doing that, leaving him as a very limited player.
Looking to spark an offense that was coming off a three-point performance, the Jets decided to yank Robinson. They made him a healthy scratch for their Week 12 game against Chicago.
Taking Robinson’s spot? Undrafted rookie Zonovan “Bam” Knight.
The first-year man from North Carolina State captured the hearts of Jets fans with his performance in training camp and the preseason. He earned a spot on the Jets’ practice squad, where he remained throughout the duration of the regular season.
Robinson’s struggles prompted the Jets to call up Knight for his NFL debut against the Bears in Week 12. He played a much larger role than anyone could have expected, logging 30 offensive snaps (48%). Part of that is due to Michael Carter leaving the game with an ankle injury with 12:40 remaining in the third quarter, but Knight was already playing a key role before Carter exited. Knight played 12 of his 30 snaps prior to Carter’s injury.
And, boy, did Knight make one heck of a first impression.
Knight carried the ball 14 times for 69 yards, averaging 4.9 yards per carry. To boot, he caught all three of his targets for 34 yards.
All told, Knight racked up 103 yards from scrimmage.
That is a new all-time Jets franchise record for a player in his NFL debut.
The record was previously held by wide receiver Stephen Hill. Knight surpassed Hill’s mark by 14 yards. Among running backs, Knight’s performance is the best by 36 yards.
Here is a look at the top 10 players on the leaderboard:
- RB Zonovan Knight, 103 (2022 Week 12 vs. CHI)
- WR Stephen Hill, 89 (2012 Week 1 vs. BUF)
- RB John Riggins, 67 (1971 Week 1 at BAL)
- WR Al Toon, 67 (1985 Week 2 vs. BUF)
- RB Breece Hall, 61 (2022 Week 1 vs. BAL)
- RB Bruce Harper, 55 (1977 Week 1 at HOU)
- RB Eddie Hunter, 54 (1987 Week 4 vs. DAL)
- WR Garrett Wilson, 52 (2022 Week 1 vs. BAL)
- WR Derrick Gaffney, 52 (1978 Week 1 vs. MIA)
- WR Keyshawn Johnson, 50 (1996 Week 1 at DEN)
Prior to 2022, the Jets only had seven players in franchise history record at least 50 scrimmage yards in their NFL debut. They’ve had three in this season alone. Knight is joined by Breece Hall and Garrett Wilson in the top 10.
This was a truly encouraging performance from Knight. It’s not as if he simply ran through wide-open holes and had yardage schemed up for him (although the Jets’ blocking was certainly strong in this one). Knight created a lot of his production on his own, showcasing oodles of potential in the elusiveness department.
Knight was credited with forcing 6 missed tackles in the run game and 3 in the passing game. His total of 9 missed tackles forced was the best mark of any NFL running back in Week 12.
It will be fun to see how the Jets utilize Knight going forward. His game against Chicago was certainly good enough to earn him a regular spot in the running back rotation.
Carter’s status for this week is up in the air due to his ankle injury, although he is considered day-to-day so it seems unlikely he will miss more than one game at the maximum. If Carter is out, Knight will obviously play, and Robinson will likely return to fill Carter’s shoes.
But what about when Carter is healthy? Are the Jets just going to give up on Robinson and make Knight a new member of the main running back trio with Carter and Ty Johnson?
The Jets traded a conditional 2023 sixth-round pick to Jacksonville for Robinson. It becomes a fifth-round pick if Robinson reaches 600 rushing yards this season. Robinson is at 415 yards right now, so he is 185 yards away from upgrading the pick. Perhaps the Jets are taking this into consideration with Robinson. If he isn’t adding anything to the offense in the short term, why risk decreasing the value of next year’s draft class?
And, at the end of the day, it’s a sixth-round pick. That’s not a high-value selection by any means. The Jets don’t have to justify trading for Robinson. The trade made sense at the time. But now, if he isn’t playing well, then he isn’t playing well, and you have to adjust accordingly. Just eat the loss of a measly sixth-rounder and call it a day.
Knight was too good against the Bears to not get more chances. If I were the Jets, I would give Knight another shot to play a featured role against Minnesota this week. Then they can take things on a week-by-week basis. If Knight fails to perform well on a consistent basis and turns out to be a one-game wonder, then Robinson is still there for security. Until then, Knight’s potential is too tantalizing to pass up on.
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