Following a promising 2021 campaign in which he posted career highs in receptions, yards, and touchdowns, Buffalo Bills tight end Dawson Knox received a four-year, $53.6 million contract extension that seemed to signal an increasing offensive role for the 25-year-old. But since then, he has put up just 183 yards on 20 catches through only seven games of the 2022 season. So what might be wrong with Dawson Knox?
Before we get into what might be wrong, let’s establish a baseline of how Dawson Knox is performing this year as opposed to last year. In 2022, his is 18th DVOA among Tight Ends vs. 10th in DVOA in 2021. In yards per reception this season, he is 32nd vs. 11th in 2021. He is 41st in yards per route run vs. 25 in 2021.
Now that we understand the numbers, are the Bills using Knox differently? In terms of where Knox lines up, he is lining up in the slot roughly the same amount as he did in 2021, around 40-41%. Additionally, there has been little change in Knox’s inline percentage going from 47% to 51% from 2021 to 2022. So what about total usage? Dawson Knox eclipsed 90% of snaps in seven games during the 2021 campaign. Eight games into 2022, Dawson Knox has yet to eclipse 88%. Perhaps here lies the first part of the answer. Knox (albeit slightly) is playing less in 2022 than in 2021.
Quarterback and the Offense
We have looked at usage and numbers and have a little bit of the picture. In 2021, Dawson was third on the Bills in targets. Eight games into this season, he sits fifth behind even Devin Singletary and Isaiah McKenzie. What is one thing that has changed from last 2021 to 2022? The Bills have a new offensive coordinator. The role Ken Dorsey plays in all this is challenging to pinpoint. The bulk of Dawson Knox’s catches in 2021 and 2022 come within 0-9 yards. The percentage of throws quarterback Josh Allen makes in this area of the field is almost unchanged between 2021 and 2022. He isn’t the problem; thus, we are still scratching our heads.
If you have read this far, you are probably waiting for some “ah hah!” moment for me to point out precisely what is wrong with Knox. Unfortunately, football is complex, and finding the answer we want can be challenging. And even if we do find it, it may not be satisfying. But let me lay out my hypothesis.
The Bills seemed to change what they wanted in the slot role. Under Brian Daboll, the slot receiver was Allen’s safety blanket, allowing Cole Beasly to thrive. This offseason, the Bills wanted the running back to be the safety blanket, reflected by, among other moves, trading for Nyheim Hines and the fact Devin Singletary is third on the team in targets. Thus, Dawson Knox, who could have taken on at least part of Cole Beasly’s role, is relegated to a third or fourth option on passing downs. But as teams have changed how they play Buffalo, Allen has struggled to find his check-down option.
You probably want a solution now, right? Well, I don’t have one. But Ken Dorsey is still in the infancy of his play-calling career. We saw the Bills fix their offense midway through last season. We have also seen Dawson Knox be a threat in the passing game. He is still the match-up nightmare he was in 2021. For the Bills to get back on track offensively, they must get back to using one of their most physically gifted (and well-paid) talents in Dawson Knox.