As a child, he was known by his nickname because people had difficulty pronouncing his name. Now, Zonovan Knight is the name on everyone’s lips as one of the most explosive running backs in the 2022 NFL Draft class. Following a prolific season opener against USF, the NC State RB is being touted as one of the best in the nation, and his scouting report gives an insight into why.
Zonovan Knight NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Running Back
- School: NC State
- Current Year: Junior
- Height: 5’11”
- Weight: 210 pounds
Zonovan Knight Scouting Report
Although it is early in the 2022 NFL Draft cycle, two names have constantly appeared at the top of the class. Texas A&M’s Isaiah Spiller and Iowa State’s Breece Hall are seen as the consensus standard-bearer. Behind them, however, are a plethora of running backs who will attempt to separate themselves ahead of the annual selection event in April.
Knight is one of them. Yet, his scouting report indicates that the NC State RB has all the attributes to elevate himself above the crowd this fall.
One of the most impressive elements of Knight’s game is his vision. The NC State RB is incredibly patient behind the line of scrimmage. Rather than plowing ahead as quickly as possible, he waits to identify open lanes then bursts through them. His vision is also exhibited as he makes his way downfield. He can spot opportunities to extend runs through downfield lanes and routinely acts on these.
While vision is important, you won’t succeed if you don’t have the athletic ability to execute. Thankfully, Knight has impressive acceleration and lateral agility, meaning he can redirect effortlessly to extend plays. This is also evident at the line of scrimmage, routinely using his burst to get around the edge and into the open field. Meanwhile, he can get skinny between the tackles as an inside runner.
Vision, contact balance, and a willing pass protector
The NC State RB has many weapons in his armory as a result of his athletic profile. Knight has demonstrated spin moves, jump cuts, and stiff arms on multiple occasions.
Knight is tough to bring down. One of the critical areas for analyzing NFL Draft prospects at the running back position is contact balance, and Knight’s balance is impressive. He ranked as a top-five back in college football for missed tackles last season, and his tape is littered with examples of him making a man miss. It usually takes multiple players to stop the NC State RB in his tracks.
Finally, Knight shows willingness in pass protection. At 5’11” and 210 pounds, he isn’t the biggest running back in this NFL Draft class. However, he routinely looks for work and puts all his effort into protecting his quarterback.
Areas for improvement
At this time, it’s difficult to poke holes in Knight’s NFL Draft scouting report. However, like all prospects, there are areas for improvement.
Knight isn’t routinely utilized as a receiver, although he displays pass-catching prowess and awareness of route running. To date, he has 31 receptions for 204 yards at 6.6 yards per attempt during his college football career. Furthermore, he hasn’t secured a receiving touchdown.
While his usage in the running game is ultimately out of his hands, demonstrating consistent ability in this regard will improve his NFL Draft stock.
Still, I praise his effort in pass protection, but he’ll need to improve his efficiency and technique to elevate his stock further.
Finally, Knight is coming off shoulder surgery, which will require further investigation by NFL teams. However, it hasn’t seemed to cause him any issue in the first two games of the college football season.
Zonovan Knight Player Profile
Bam, bam, bam. The sound of the constant banging of children’s toys would earn Zonovan the nickname “BAM BAM” at a young age. By the time he reached fourth grade, it had been shortened down to just “BAM.” It may have started as a simplistic summation of the noise heard in households worldwide, but as Knight mounts his charge on the NFL Draft running back class, it perfectly captures his ability on the field.
BAM! It could be the sound of Knight embracing contact and emerging victorious. BAM! It could be the sound of a spiked football hitting end-zone turf. BAM! It could be the sound of Knight closing the leather-bound pages of the Southern Nash High School record book.
With three consecutive seasons of over 1,000 rushing yards, Knight is the all-time leading rusher in Southern Nash history. Furthermore, his 2,054 rushing yards set a single-season record that had stood since 2002. Astonishingly, he broke the record on 169 fewer carries. BAM!
His exceptional exploits earned him a four-star grade from 247 Sports while being named the 27th-best running back in the 2019 class. As a result, Knight had a flurry of early offers, committing to Duke in March 2018.
However, his early commitment curtailed interest from other college programs, and he rescinded his commitment. An offer from NC State followed shortly after, and Knight headed into his senior season knowing his football journey would continue in his home state.
Knight’s career at NC State
BAM! While some true freshmen take a minute to get adjusted to the pace of college football, the new NC State RB made an immediate impact. Knight found the end zone on the first carry of his college career against East Carolina. In just his second game, he rushed for 119 yards and 2 touchdowns against Western Carolina.
Despite splitting time in the backfield with Jordan Houston and Ricky Person Jr., Knight led the team in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, and flashed his explosive playmaking ability with the team’s longest run play of the year with a 53-yard score against Louisville.
The dynamic NC State RB led the team in rushing yards again in his sophomore season. Knight’s 25 rushing plays of over 10 yards was also a team-high mark. He earned the Ted Brown Award as the NC State Offensive Back of the Year for the second consecutive season.
High hopes for Knight in pivotal NFL Draft season
Not content with dominating out of the backfield, Knight became only the fourth player in program history to return a kickoff 100 yards while scoring a touchdown against Miami.
Despite emerging as one of the most dynamic running backs in the nation even before the 2022 NFL Draft cycle, Knight wasn’t satisfied. After setting rushing totals of 745 and 788 yards in his first two seasons, the NC State RB wants to crack 1,000 yards during the 2021 college football season. Knight opened up the campaign in impressive style in a pivotal season for his NFL Draft stock with 163 yards and a score against USF. BAM!
While tougher tests are sure to come, Knight has the opportunity to elevate his NFL Draft stock this season. The NC State RB has a tremendous offensive line, including highly regarded prospect Ikem Ekwonu, to run behind in addition to his alluring skill set.
While a return to the first round for an NC State RB is unlikely, emulating Nyheim Hines’ fourth-round selection in the 2018 NFL Draft should be achievable.
Tony Pauline’s Scouting Report for Zonovan Knight
Positives: Consistently productive running back who is effective as a pass catcher. Displays outstanding instincts, works to keep plays alive, and bounces around piles. Displays terrific strength in his running, breaks tackles, and carries defenders for extra yardage. Terrific pass catcher out of the backfield who displays eye/hand coordination, extends his hands, and makes the reception away from his frame. Shows a lot of ability after the catch. Remains disciplined with blocking assignments and shows good blocking vision.
Negatives: Lacks the agility to turn the corner and loses momentum changing the direction of runs. Runs with a bit of an upright style.
Analysis: Knight was consistently productive for North Carolina State the past three seasons and is a nice-sized back who can pick up the tough yardage and effectively be used as a pass catcher.