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Using McKnight, Sayers in the Same Factoid

Posted by Randy Lange on February 12, 2013 – 4:21 pm

This is the time of year that tries Jets fans’ souls. It’s dark out, not just outside my window at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center but for the short-term future. The improvements will get made, but they’ll be made slowly, often beneath the radar, with no competitive evidence until the games begin again in August and September.

Until then, we’ll get you the information we can as soon while we go about the other business we do on the business side of the Jets’ operations. That means covering free agency and the draft as we can, introducing you to the new coaches as we will in the coming weeks, providing player stories before and after they return to the complex in April.

All the while we’ll be working on the 2013 Yearbook. This provides the opportunities to dig up some things that were hidden during the ’12 season or to give more credit — and more hope for the future — than might have been given out during the 6-10 campaign past.

One of those early amazing notes has to do with Joe McKnight’s kickoff returning. This was a hot topic after the 2011 season’s 31.6-yard average, the best by a qualifying returner in the last quarter of a century. McKnight didn’t have quite as explosive a ’12, but his 27.5 average was still third in the league.

“Devin Hester’s the best now. Hopefully I can have my name next to his or around his somewhere. That’d be great,” McKnight told me earnestly back in November in the middle of that second season as the Jets’ prime kick returner. “I used to look up to him. He wore No. 4 and I wore No. 4 [in high school]. I always wanted to go to the University of Miami. I was a big Clinton Portis fan and a big Devin Hester fan.”

McKnight may want to readjust his sites because while Hester’s excellent, Gale Sayers is historic. Joe accomplished something that hadn’t been done in the NFL since “the Kansas Comet” hit the scene in 1965-66.

McKnight’s 29.4-yard kickoff-return average in ’11-12 combined is the best average in back-to-back seasons in the NFL (minimum of 40 total returns) since Sayers’ 31.3 mark in those first two years of his too-short Pro Football Hall of Fame career. Here are the top six returners’ numbers in this category in the last 50 seasons:

Player, Team Seasons Rets Yds Avg TDs
Gale Sayers, CHI 1965-66 44 1378 31.3 3
Abe Woodson, SF 1963-64 61 1815 29.8 3
Joe McKnight, NYJ 2011-12 73 2145 29.4 2
Travis Williams, GB 1967-68 46 1338 29.1 4
Jerry Azumah, CHI 2002-03 41 1191 29.05 2
Brad Smith, NYJ 2009-10 60 1742 29.03 3

One question might well arise in regard to this factoid: Was Joe helped by the new rule that placed kickoffs on the kicking team’s 35 again with the 2011 season? In fact, that could be argued. The average return in the NFL in ’11 was 23.8, the average in ’12 was 23.6. Those are two of the best three season averages for the league since 1960. A high tide lifts all boats and surely McKnight’s average benefited.

Yet on the other hand, where are all the other 29-yard returners in 2011-12? McKnight’s the only one, so while his 29.4 isn’t as impressive compared to the league as even Brad Smith’s 29.03 for the Jets in 2009-10, it still stands on its own merits as one of the best two-season kickoff-return efforts since the birth of the AFL.

Now if Joe can avoid injury and avoid putting the ball on the turf better — and the NFL doesn’t legislate kickoffs out of existence — he’ll start to build his rep as one of pro football’s best return men over a three-year period as the 2013 season unfolds.

We Hardly Knew Ye

A few ex-Jets sightings on the transaction wire: DL Marcus Dixon and WR Mardy Gilyard both signed with Kansas City on Monday. In case anyone missed it, LB Aaron Maybin signed with Cincinnati on Jan. 25.


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