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Knight Brings Big-Play Value

By Dave Holcomb
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Dave Holcomb breaks down NC State running back Zonovan Knight.

There are running backs that are bigger, stronger and faster than NC State’s Zonovan (Bam) Knight. There are running backs with more quickness and stamina too.

But the combination of skills Knight brings to the table make him a major big-play threat and a weapon to be used on special teams.

As far as late-round picks go, that’s just about as good as an NFL team can ask for while searching for running back depth on Day 3 of the NFL Draft.

Knight split carries this past season at NC State with Ricky Person Jr. The two combined for 275 rushing attempts, with Knight posting 140 of those carries for 753 yards and three touchdowns. He also contributed 21 receptions for 156 yards.

Knight consistently produced that kind of production for three college seasons. He posted at least 795 yards from scrimmage during all three years, including more than 900 total yards in 2020 and 2021.

Also over the last two seasons, Knight returned 30 kickoffs for an average of 30.8 yards per return. He took three of those kickoff returns to the endzone for touchdowns.

Draft analyst Joe Marino of The Draft Network was highly complimentary of Knight’s ability to excel as both a running back and returner.

“Knight is an explosive and physical runner with good balance. He thrives in zone concepts where his ability to anticipate creases, accelerate, and showcase his elusiveness in space shines,” Marino wrote. “He is a highly-competitive runner that battles for every inch on the field and has the speed to hit home runs.

“Knight brings additional value as a kick returner (too).”

That “home run potential” didn’t just show up on special teams. Knight helped NC State finish third in the ACC in plays from scrimmage of 30 or more yards during 2020. Then this past season, the Wolfpack was tied for fourth with the most scrimmage plays of at least 40 yards in the conference.

However, NFL analyst Lance Zierlein was not nearly as high on Knight as Marino. Zierlein didn’t mention any specific glaring weakness when evaluating Knight, but he also doesn’t project his combination of skills to translate well at the next level.

“Runner with adequate size, below-average cut quickness and impressive contact balance,” Zierlein wrote. “He lacks creativity and isn’t aggressive enough as a run finisher but does absorb contact well while carrying forward for additional yardage.

“The running back profile isn’t that exciting but his pass-catching potential and kick-return ability could improve his chances.”

In what could prove to be a deep class at running back, the draft scouts at ESPN have ranked Knight as the No. 16 running back for the upcoming draft. ESPN also rated him the No. 218 overall player, which basically projects him as a sixth-round pick on Day 3.

Interestingly, the draft scouts at NFL Draft Buzz weren’t critical of Knight because of any skill or trait he lacks but because of his college production.

“Knight has all the athletic talents you look for in a featured pro back, ideal size, good speed with a natural feel for finding holes in the line,” the NFL Draft Buzz scouts wrote. “He, however, has never really hit the highs we would have liked.”

That seems like harsh criticism for a running back who amassed 2,623 yards from scrimmage in three college seasons. But he did arrive as a 4-star prospect and the No. 27 running back in the 2019 recruiting class according to 247Sports.

In that recruiting class, Knight was the only 4-star offensive prospect NC State signed.

But, it’s hard to argue about production with a player that ranks inside the top 12 in rushing yards in the ACC three consecutive seasons. During the 2020 and 2021 seasons, Knight was in the ACC’s top 10 in rushing thanks in large part to his ability to pop big plays at any moment.

With that and his capacity for game-changing plays on special teams, Knight should appeal to plenty of NFL teams on Day 3 of the 2022 NFL Draft.