Knowles is the best return specialist in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Now that the Chiefs season is over and have bragging rights for the whole season, the team can focus on the draft and free agency. When it comes to college, four year starters aren’t as common as they used in college football. Players are leaving school early more and more with each passing year. Some teams, when it comes to the draft, value experience higher than others, including the experience of Kansas State’s Malik Knowles. He proved to be a versatile player on both offense and special teams last season at K-State and looks to have a similar impact in the NFL.
Here’s a look at everything you need to know about Knowles and his potential ahead of the 2023 NFL Draft.
Originally from Mansfield, Texas. Attended Lake Ridge High School and was rated a three-star prospect by 247Sports. Decided to redshirt his first year in 2018. A dynamic wide receiver and kick returner over his 51-game career that spanned parts of five seasons, Tied for seventh in school history in career touchdown receptions (14), tied for eighth in receiving yards (1,867) and tied for ninth in receptions (127) and finished his career ranked fifth in school history in all-purpose yards (3,998).
Listed at 6 foot 3 inches tall and 206 pounds, Knowles has the prototypical size teams are looking for at receiver. He is a lean, long-legged, muscular-framed athlete who has shown the capability to play outside or in the slot in the Wildcats offense and brings value as a kick returner.
Knowles is a lanky receiver with deep speed. He is a rare receiver that has length and is more than just a long strider. He has plenty of quick-twitch to his game. He is crafty at the top of his route, glides in and out of his breaks efficiently and looks like a basketball player stepping to the rim to gain separation. He sells his deep routes well. Defenders have to respect his ability to beat them over the top, and he does a nice job of taking advantage of the soft coverage. Everything is a fade until it isn’t, and that starts at the line of scrimmage for Knowles. He understands zone defenses and does a great job finding the hole and working the middle of the field. He adds value as a player that you can get the ball in his hands. He is an excellent kick returner and is someone Kansas State liked to get the ball to on end-arounds and was effective in that role.
Knowles looks like a deep threat/manufactured touch kind of player. For a player as productive as he was at K-State, his route tree is very underdeveloped. Knowles’ routes are still a work in progress, as his ability to get off the line of scrimmage. He will need to increase his functional strength, as he can sometimes get knocked off his routes. He is better at freestyling, thriving more-so out of structure. He could be a guy that needs to have his touches manufactured early in his career. He needs more consistently display the things that make you fall in love with his game.
WR/RS Jacoby Jones
Jones certainly was a weapon, and proved his worth by being more reliable in 2012 for the Ravens than Lee Evans was in 2011. Add on his considerable kick and punt return skills, proved be a true asset. Like Jones, Knowles would be another receiving weapon for an offense that needs one, and likely at a bargain price via the draft.
How he would fit with the Chiefs:
Knowles may offer some skills the Chiefs would like to employ. Knowing Dave Toub, he is going to love Knowles during this offseason, and for good reason. Knowles fits the mold of what the Chiefs like to do on offense: get the ball in his hands in space, letting him work and also has the straight-line speed. All in all, Malik Knowles be fun in this offense. K-State got this guy the ball in a myriad of ways: handoffs, screens, and in the return game. No one gets playmakers in space better than Andy Reid and the Chiefs, and Knowles could be a dominant force from day one if he finds his way to Kansas City.