Bam Knight is at the heart of why expectations remain optimistic for NC State’s offense in 2021. There’s plenty of excitement surrounding the return of Devin Leary; he’s the unquestionable leader at quarterback.
However, the amount of returning talent NC State has at the skill positions is notable. The loss of 6-foot-7 tight end Cary Angeline stings: 12 touchdown receptions, 15.7 yards per catch over three seasons with the Pack. But for the most part, NC State returns it’s heavy-hitters at wide receiver and in the backfield, led by Knight, who is arguably the top back in the league.
During the 2020 season, Knight ran for 788 yards and 10 touchdowns (No. 5 in the ACC) on 143 carries, while splitting touches with Ricky Person Jr., primarily. (Person led the team with 147 carries.) This translates to 5.5 yards per carry — which is identical to what Knight averaged on a per-carry basis as a freshman in 2019. As a rookie, Knight ran for 745 yards on 136 carries: 5.5 yards per pop.
According to Pro Football Focus, Knight averaged 0.34 broken tackles per rushing attempt, which ranked fourth among Power Five running backs. That’s also tied for the best metric among returning FBS ball-carriers.
There is a three-way tie to be the most elusive RB returning to CFB (missed tackles forced / attempt):
🌀 1. Frank Gore Jr / So Miss – .34
🌀 1. Tank Bigsby / Auburn – .34
🌀 1. Zonovan Knight / NC St – .34 pic.twitter.com/XXnOLI2BrK
— PFF College (@PFF_College) June 24, 2021
(Just as a reminder: Frank Gore Sr. ran for 653 yards during the 2020 NFL season with the New York Jets. The man is timeless.)
With 20 receptions in 2020, and his work on kickoff returns, Knight pilled up 1,297 total yards: 108.1 total yards per game, which ranked sixth in the ACC.
Knight even took one kickoff return back for a touchdown — during the November loss to Miami. Going back to the 2000 season, Knight is one of only 28 FBS players to average 5+ yards per carry, run for 10 or more touchdown, catch 10+ passes and return at least one kickoff for a touchdown. The rest of that list includes Darren McFadden, Felix Jones, Michael Turner, CJ Spiller, De’Anthony Thomas, Chris Johnson, Todd Gurley and Saquon Barkley, among others.
There’s plenty of depth in NC State’s backfield; touches will be divided. Even with that in mind, though, it’s logical to expect a larger workload for Knight; his talent demands more opportunities. As more opposing defenses load up to stop Knight, Leary can work off that with a talented receiver group: Emeka Emezie, Thayer Thomas, Porter Rooks and Devin Carter.
If Knight is able to approach the 200-carry benchmark, he has a chance to become the next ACC back to average over five yards per carry, while rushing for 1,000+ yards. Dating back to the 2000 season, only 27 ACC players have run for 1,000+ yards, averaged 5.0+ yards per carry, run for 10+ touchdowns and caught 15+ passes. Knight could become the next guy.