This may come as a shock, but usually 5-foot-8 FCS wide receivers don’t make appearances as the focal point of articles on an NFL Draft site. Well, today we make an exception. This isn’t doing it just for the sake of doing it, either. This guy has legitimate NFL traits.
His name is Kelvin McKnight, and he plays for the Samford Bulldogs.
McKnight’s name was brought to my attention from Dane Brugler, one of the most respected names in this business. Once I saw that Dane had an affection for McKnight, I almost fell over myself sprinting to the film to see why. I came away impressed, and with the notion that McKnight could very well be an NFL Draft pick in 2019.
Looking into McKnight’s background, it’s impressive for a relatively unknown. He is from football hotbed Bradenton, Florida, and as a 3-star prospect (247 sports) he held offers from Maryland and Florida Atlantic before deciding on Samford. Right away, that choice paid off for McKnight as he found himself in the starting lineup for all 11 games as a true freshman. McKnight put up 57 receptions, 616 yards and 2 touchdowns en route to the Southern Conference Freshman of the Year award.
As a sophomore, McKnight began to truly take off. In Samford’s matchup with Mississippi State, he had 13 receptions, 115 yards and 1 touchdown. As a junior in 2017, McKnight added 7 receptions for 58 yards and 1 touchdown against Georgia. Voted as an FCS All-American last season for his 85 reception, 1,156 yards, 12 touchdown season, McKnight proved on two separate occasions that even SEC defenses couldn’t slow him down.
Funny thing is, McKnight was just getting starting torching FBS secondaries.
In Samford’s near upset against Florida State early this season, McKnight went for 14 receptions, 215 yards, and 2 touchdowns. Yes, you read that correctly.
When you accumulate McKnight’s numbers against Mississippi State, Georgia, and Florida State over the last three seasons, he’s had 34 receptions, 388 yards, and 4 touchdowns. If that doesn’t convince you that McKnight is a legit prospect, let’s let the film do the talking.
McKnight mostly operates in the slot for Samford, and will likely project to that role at the next level. Several key traits for these style of receivers are manipulating zone coverage and finding voids over the middle, the ability to operate out of structure, and adjusting to and catching passes that are thrown in area away from defenders. Against Florida State, McKnight effortlessly showed plus ability in all of these factors.
On multiple occasions, McKnight found himself behind the Florida State defense because of changes in the pace of his stem. A difficult cover for defensive backs vertically, McKnight can occasionally make up for his lack of size with separation down the field.
Looking at his touchdown against Georgia in 2017, McKnight set the defensive back up outside before accelerating to beat him vertically. McKnight has shown on tape that he can thrive as an underneath safety net for a quarterback, but that his game isn’t limited as he can also stretch the field from the slot.
There are still areas in McKnight’s game that he can improve. While he regularly generates separation and has shown excellent hands, he can rely on his body to make too many receptions. Occasionally, this can come back to haunt him as he doesn’t dominate in contested situations. Additionally, McKnight is a plus athlete, but doesn’t have the ultra-quick cuts of players similar to him in size. I kept thinking back to Richie James from last year, and McKnight never quite reached that level of short-area quickness.
McKnight will pick up yards after the catch, be handed the football, and even return punts for Samford. While he is reliable, he isn’t necessarily the most dynamic runner for his stature. A presence on special teams could ultimately be what leads to McKnight being drafted, and if he could shake loose with the football more it would be a welcome increase to his stock.
McKnight’s career production as a receiver will land him NFL looks, and his games against FBS competition are NFL Draft prospect worthy film. If McKnight can also test well, it can help disregard athleticism questions and vault him into draftable status.