Despite rampant speculation during the offseason surrounding a potential trade that would send Eagles tight end Zach Ertz to the Buffalo Bills, Dawson Knox kept his head down and kept working. And four games into the 2021 NFL season, Knox is proving why the Bills not only opted against acquiring a tight end during the offseason, but placed complete faith in the 24-year old they drafted in the third round of the 2019 NFL draft.
In a wet, rainy game at Highmark Stadium against the Houston Texans, Knox caught five passes for 37 yards and scored two touchdowns, helping propel Buffalo to a dominant 40-0 victory. With four contests in the books, Knox has been everything the Bills hoped he’d develop into – an athletic pass-catcher with reliable hands that has the speed to get past defenders, with the power and physicality to break tackles and pick up extra chunks of yards.
He’s been a key cog in Buffalo’s offense, catching 15 passes for 144 yards. His four touchdowns are tied with Rob Gronkowski for most in the NFL through four weeks.
The Bills believed in Knox’s ability to have this type of impact all along, but it’s been an up-and-down journey to get to this point.
Knox became a whipping boy of sorts among the fanbase, due to drop issues that plagued him for most of his first two seasons with the team. But that noise fueled him to hone his craft and get better.
“I think it comes down to controlling what you can control,” Knox said following his two-touchdown performance. “There’s always going to be a lot of noise outside, talking about trades for certain players, acquiring different free agents, but we got to focus on us. I got to focus on myself and getting better every day. As soon as I start worrying about what people are saying about the tight end position or the offense, that’s the second you slip and lose focus of where you want to be. We talk about ignoring the noise a lot, and that’s been a big thing for me.”
During the offseason, Knox worked extensively with a hand-eye coordination coach to eliminate those costly drops that led to all of those pesky trade rumors. Knox has been credited with just one drop – if you can really count the pass thrown behind him as a drop – on 20 targets. The Ole Miss product says his newfound confidence has been a big reason why he’s holding onto the ball this season.
“I think it just comes down to confidence and being disciplined with my eyes,” Knox said following the game about his previous drop issues. “Last year, I had a few balls that I thought were easy and I’d start looking upfield and I had some bad drops. But it’s like as soon as you start thinking about not dropping the ball, you start having drops. So I think just having consistency in practice and having his trust and just stacking those good practices, stacking those good games and keeping our confidence up.”
But it wasn’t just the drops that resulted in a slow start to the 6-foot-4, 255-pounder’s career. A walk-on quarterback at Ole Miss, Knox has only played tight end for a few years. Learning the nuances of a new position takes time, especially in the NFL when you’re thrust into a significant role. During the offseason, Knox talked about the things he learned over the course of his first two seasons in the NFL about playing the position.
“A big thing, depending on the concept, depending on the play, you can be open too early,” Knox said during OTAs. “That’s a thing. You don’t want to necessarily beat your guy when the ball is snapped because Josh might not be looking at you yet. So that patience of just knowing Josh’s progression, knowing what he’s looking at in certain coverages, and knowing where to fit, too, is huge, and that just comes with playing a lot.
“With two years under my belt, I’m starting to see some of those things that I had no idea was even a thing in my rookie year, you know, I was just out there with my head spinning, hoping I ran the right route. But now, I’m able to start focusing on some of those intricate details that Josh is looking for too.”
Those statements have proven to be true thus far, as Knox has looked consistently comfortable within the team’s offense for the first time in his career. He’s used in a variety of ways and it’s clear that Josh Allen trusts him.
Following Buffalo’s huge victory, quarterback Allen pointed at Knox’ transition from quarterback to tight end and praised the development he’s seen from his leading touchdown scorer.
“This guy’s been playing tight end for maybe four-five years,” Allen said Sunday. “It’s not a natural thing, it takes some time. You see the progression, how he’s trusted the process. He does everything right whether it be blocking, whether it be pass-catching, whether it be running routes, he just finds ways to get open, I have supreme trust in this guy right here.”
Allen continued to heap praise on his teammate, crediting the work ethic that’s allowed him to develop into an all-around player. While Knox’s impact as a receiver is evident, the franchise quarterback pointed at his improvement as a run-blocker as an area of his game that’s been just as special.
“He’s a guy that does the right things and you cant not trust him. He makes plays, and again like I said, whether it’s pass game or run blocking. I think that’s something that people really don’t realize about his run blocking, how much better of a run blocker he’s been this year. He’s really put in the time, that’s a focus that tight ends need to be able to do, and we’ve got one of the best in the league that can do it.”
As for Knox, he’s just one of many Bills players that’s embraced the “Growth Mindset” coach Sean McDermott preaches. He’s used his shortcomings as fuel to get better and his hard work is paying off.
But he’s still not satisfied. And if you ask him, he likely never will be.
“I’ve always played with a chip on my shoulder, ever since I was a walk-on in college,” says Knox. “Just never being satisfied with my game has always been a big thing (for me) or (being) content with where I’m at. But when I have a great guy like him (Josh Allen) throwing to me, and a great line up front, I think our confidence as an offense is going to just keep getting better.”