Fantasy Football: Dawson Knox, Fantasy Points and OJ

A third-year breakout on a team that had hardly used the tight end position under this current coaching staff seemed very unlikely for Dawson Knox, but on the back of the red zone efficiency and another down year for the position in general, he was able to finish as fantasy’s TE9 in half-PPR points per game (9.2) in 2021. As a cherry on top of his surprising season, Knox would thump the Patriots for a 5-89-2 line to knock them out of the Wild Card round and prove that he was a favorite target of Josh Allen’s, even in crucial games.

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2022 is a new year and with some slight changes to personnel, the volume we need for fantasy-relevant tight ends may be in jeopardy. Below we will take a brief look at Knox’s career up to and including last year’s breakout, as well as his outlook for this season after an addition to the tight end room could negatively impact his status as a top-eight option for 2022.

A Breath of Fresh Air in a Barren Landscape

Dawson Knox’s passing game usage waxed and waned over his first two seasons, receiving a slight downtick from his first to second years, a situation that is almost always reversed for young tight ends. We could blame some of his drop in raw targets on the fact that the team went out and got Steffon Diggs — who has accrued well over 300 targets as a Bill already— after the 2019 season but that doesn’t excuse his precipitous drop in routes ran.

Bills TEs Routes Ran Per Game ’19 -’21
Player 2019 RRPG 2020 RRPG 2021 RRPG
Dawson Knox 22.3 13.0 38.2
Team’s TE2 10.0 14.3 9.0
Rest of Team’s TEs 5.3 3.4 (none)

The sudden drop in usage had many wondering if / when they would shore up the position, with rumors swirling during last year’s offseason about a possible trade for Zach Ertz. The team (clearly) stuck it out with Knox and the ensuing output helped boost the offense into scoring the third-most points in the NFL while the tight end gifted fantasy players with eight TE1 finishes despite going undrafted in a majority of typical redraft leagues.

Sustainability becomes the question here, as Knox only had three games with over four catches, with a large portion of his fantasy success coming in the form of touchdowns. With touchdowns fluctuating wildly from year to year, it’s important that we see a signal that red zone usage is going to continue over time, and we seem to have that for Knox. In 2021, he was second on the team (Stefon Diggs, 34) in targets inside the opponents’ 20-yard line with 18, and was tied for second amongst tight ends with his 10 targets inside the end zone.

Two Constants and a Variable

Thus far in Dawson Knox’s career, he has shared time in the tight end room with big, slow, blocking tight ends and as we’ve seen in the above section, he has overcome the relatively light competition to turn in a successful year as a receiver. The 2022 season presents a large OJ Howard-sized red flag that Knox hasn’t had to deal with up until this point. Unlike Knox’s former teammates, Howard was a receiving option first which makes sense when you look at the type of athlete he was coming out of Alabama back in 2017.

Regardless, Howard would eventually fall into a second-fiddle role in his time with the Buccaneers; both because of his own performance and the re-connection between Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. A former first-round pick, his career-high 34 receptions came all the way back in 2019 when he was unable to usurp Cameron Brate for a majority role in the offense. In a “real football” lens, I think the signing was a great one, as they’ve simply added a former 19th-overall selection to their pass-catching group to further increase the overall athleticism of their weapons, but I’m not sure it’s going to cut into Dawson Knox on a scale that we will notice.

Far more concerning than an addition of a nice backup to the team is the minuscule target share the team affords the tight end position relative to the rest of the league. While there have been a few moving pieces in the offense and coaching staff there have been two telling constants; quarterback Josh Allen and Ken Dorsey, who was the quarterback’s coach from 2019-to 2021, adding the title of passing game coordinator in ’21, and is now the full-fledged offensive coordinator. Being that Josh Allen grew from a questionable NFL quarterback into one of the very best in the league under Dorsey’s tutelage, it’d be hard to discern a reason for the new OC to flip this offense on its head, which likely means they’ll be near the bottom in tight end usage once again.

Bills Tight End Targets, 2019-’21
Year TE Targets TE Targ% TE Targ% Rank
2019 79 16.9% 24th
2020 71 11.4% 30th
2021 83 13.7% 31st

This doesn’t mean that Dawson Knox isn’t a viable TE option in fantasy this year, only that there probably isn’t room for much more ceiling than we saw last season. Keep in mind, that a lot of his 2021 ceiling came in the form of touchdowns; a highly volatile statistic to base future success on. While his scoring output may be expected to regress a little bit, I think it’s very reasonable to look for a slight increase in targets, and thus, more yards and receptions. Enough to keep him in discussions as a top-10 tight end option for the 2022 season.

Bottom Line

  • Though OJ Howard is thought of as a pass-catching specialist, he has hardly shown flashes of that over an extensive sample size. According to Spotrac, his one-year, $ 3.5m contract ranks him 31st in the NFL amongst tight ends.
  • Dawson Knox scored an unbalanced amount of his fantasy points on touchdowns last season, but with a slight increase in usage in one of the league’s most explosive offenses, he could offset or even surpass the fantasy output lost due to regression.
  • In Underdog drafts, Knox is currently coming off the board as the TE9 in the middle of the ninth round. I think that’s a very reasonable price and is a must-click for anybody navigating the draft with Josh Allen as an early-round selection.

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