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Spotlight: Johnny Knox

posted by Will Grant on Aug 9th


Will Grant's thoughts

In his second season with the Bears, and his first season under Mike Martz, Johnny Knox improved on his rookie season and finished as the Bears #1 WR. Despite having just 51 receptions, he led the team with 960 yards receiving and 5 TDS. He also led the team with 97 targets, 26 more than the next closest person on the team. Clearly the Bears considered him their 'go to' guy last season.

The biggest drawback to a breakout season for Knox last year was the fact that Chicago spread the ball around too much. Despite targeting him far more than any other receiver on the team, Knox tied RB Matt Forte for a team high 51 receptions. WR Earl Bennett and Devin Hester had 46 and 40 receptions respectively and TE Greg Olsen added another 41 of his own. With five players having 40 or more receptions, it's no wonder that none of them really stood out from a fantasy prospective. It was Knox's 18.8 Yards per reception that saved him from being a total fantasy bust.

Late Season Surge (and fade)
Even more troubling is how inconsistent Knox played, especially down the stretch. Three of Knox's five TDs came in weeks 15 and 16. If you had Knox and started him in your fantasy playoffs, you were certainly happy with this. However, given that Knox only had two end zone trips the previous 14 weeks, odd are he wasn't a big part of many playoff teams. While this type of performance would excite fantasy owners for this season, Knox's performance after week 16 should give you pause. Despite eight targets in the week 17 game, Knox failed to make a reception. In the two playoff games, Knox wasn't much better posting just six catches for 104 yards on 13 targets over two games. Not exactly the performance you want in crunch time from your #1 WR.

Impact of Free Agency
Heading into this season, it appeared that Knox would be ready to take his place among the NFL elite receivers. However, based on the news out of training camp and the free agency moves that Chicago made, last season's performance is not going to be much help in predicting how Knox will perform this year. Here's why:

  • Free Agent WR Additions. When free agency opened, Chicago struck quickly, adding a pair of Dallas castoffs - Roy Williams and Sam Hurd. Hurd was never expected to compete with Knox for the #1 slot, but his acquisition showed that Chicago was unhappy with the group of receivers that they had. Williams came just days later and his impact was felt by everyone. The Chicago front office has indicated that not only will Williams become a starter for the Bears in 2011; he'll compete with Knox for the #1 slot. On a team that spreads the ball around as much as Chicago does, any competition puts a low ceiling on Knox's potential this season.
  • Offensive Line Woes. The Bears finally addressed some of their offensive line issues by drafting rookie Gabe Carimi and adding former Seattle center Chis Spencer. However, they also lost their long-time center Olin Kruetz to free agency. Adjusting to a new center can take some time and in a lockout-shortened summer, that doesn't give the line much time to gel before the season starts. The Mike Martz offense is known to leave the QB vulnerable and a weak offensive line means short, quick passes to avoid big sacks. There is little chance that Knox is going to repeat his 18.8 yards per catch this season.
  • More focus on WR. It was no surprise to anyone that Greg Olsen's stats took a big hit under a Mike Martz offense. However, Olsen still managed to post 41 receptions and five receiving TDS, just 10 less than Knox. Olsen is now with Carolina, and the two guys taking his spot are Kellen Davis and Matt Spaeth. Both Davis and Spaeth are more blocking TEs and between the two of them, they have 46 total receptions over the last four seasons. These are more like the numbers that we would expect from a Mike Martz offense, and it will result in more receptions for the entire WR corps.
  • Kick Return Duties. Danieal Manning was one of the key kick return guys for Chicago last season. He's a Texan now, and the Bears have announced that they want Knox to be more involved in returning kicks this season. While that does open him up to potential kick return TDS, it also makes him more susceptible to injury. Knox is already nursing back issues and missing practice because of it. The additional punishment from returning kicks might land him on the bench for extended periods this season.

Knox's preseason performance will be the best indicator of what role he will play in Chicago this season. If he continues to lose focus and drop passes thrown his way, he's going to lose his starting job to Roy Williams. If he can't break long gains or figure out how to get open downfield quickly, his YPC average is going to suffer. However, is he embraces these new challenges, and elevates his game to the next level; Knox will have all of the opportunity that he needs to become a starter quality fantasy WR.

Positives

  • Led the team in targets and tied for the lead in receptions in his first season with Mike Martz calling the plays.
  • Good speed and quickness to beat opposing corners and get open deep.
  • Bulked up over the summer and came into camp, adding 10 pounds and working on his upper body to help him compete better against more physical corners.

Negatives

  • Competition for passes will be fierce. Since June, the Bears have made separate comments about getting Earl Bennett and Devin Hester more involved in the offense. They have also announced that Roy Williams and Knox will compete for the starting split end position.
  • Additional kick return duties make him more susceptible to injury and wearing down.
  • Inconsistent play and lack of performance against tougher teams at the end of last season make him a fantasy liability. Counting the playoffs, Knox had 10 games last season with fewer than six fantasy points.

Final thoughts

Johnny Knox is a tough guy to gauge right now. He had flashes of quality last season, but he also had plenty of poor showing as well. The departure of Greg Olsen presents more opportunities on offense, but the addition of Roy Williams and the commitment to other receivers means Knox is going to have to work even harder to prove he deserves the starting job. He's added muscle to compete more with opposing cornerbacks, but he has not shown a willingness to BE physical in the past. While he led the team in receptions, his big 18.8 yards per catch were a big part of his overall fantasy performance. If he can't maintain that high level of performance or compensate with more end zone appearances, Knox is going to remain a WR3-WR4 in most leagues. Keep an eye on the pre-season to see how he handles the added pressure.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

loose circuits said:

I imagine Martz will use the experience to understand what Knox does well and what he doesn't do well. This should lead to a little better numbers, not to mention another year in the system for Cutler as well as Knox. No reason not to expect improvement for a WR who was raw coming out of Abilene Christian going into his 3rd year. I think he's one of the better values this year

MrTwo94 said:

Finished last year as WR26 in FBG scoring with 51/960/5 (18.8 ypr) and currently has an ADP of WR29. He should be a value play this year since the 2010 Bears had an uncharacteristically low number of passing attempts for a Mike Martz offense. Actually, I just looked it up and they were last in the league. Expect that to change drastically. Knox should be good for a minimum of 60 receptions with an outside chance of blowing up. The Mike Martz offenses have produced some surprising stars. Johnny Knox would not be a shocker.

Sweetcan said:

He'll get his high YPC. and a handful of big plays, but a WR #2?

* 4 games with more than 4 catches
* 6 games with less than 50 yds receiving
* 10 games with less than 60 yds receiving
* 1 100 yd game

This is too inconsistent for a WR2 on my team. With a lack of protection for Cutler due to vacancies on the O-Line and the addition of Roy Williams I see 50-860-5.........A bye week fill-in or a flex play at best.


Johnny Knox projections

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Will Grant54874600
Message board consensus57921500