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Miami Hurricanes 2020 Player Profile: Jaylan Knighton

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Miami’s freshman running back could potentially breakout in year one

247Sports

Pressing forward with our player profiles, this is one guy that I've been very excited to talk about, true freshman running back Jaylan Knighton. A former Oklahoma and then FSU commit, Miami managed to snag Knighton away from the Seminoles late last November, announcing on Thanksgiving Day his decision to play at UM. Knighton de-committed from Florida State following the firing of head coach Willie Taggart.

Coming out of Deerfield Beach High School, Knighton was a top-10 RB in the 2020 recruiting class, according to 247 Sports. Playing against the top high school talent that Florida has to offer, Knighton was clearly the best running back in Broward County. He finished his high school career with 5,174 rushing yards, second most in Broward history. In 2019, Knighton rushed for 1,414 yards and 19 touchdowns, averaging an astounding 9.7 yards per carry.

His commitment was the second running back Miami landed in the last recruiting cycle, alongside fellow top-10 talent Don Chaney, a tandem that Hurricanes fans are thrilled about.

I’ve been raving about Knighton ever since he decided to play for the Hurricanes, as I think he has the potential to become the next great running back at Miami. The clever nickname of “Rooster” that Knighton goes by, only adds to the hype surrounding him.

What excites me right now about Knighton however, is that I think he has the ability to make an impact for the Hurricanes offense right away. With junior Cam’Ron Harris expected to start at RB, I've said time and time again, I believe it’ll be Rooster who ends up as the no.2 man on the running back depth chart.

In terms of pure athleticism, I think Knighton may already be the most talented RB that Miami has, and his arrival couldn’t come at a better time. Miami desperately needs to establish the running game in 2020, as they were 120th in college football in 2019 in that department, averaging just 118.8 rushing yards per game. A solid duo of RB of Harris and Knighton could potentially change that in 2020.

As an early enrollee, Knighton was impressive during the only week of spring practice, catching the eye of everyone immediately, appearing to be a natural in the Rhett Lashlee spread offense. Talent evaluators who attended practices said, they wouldn’t be surprised to see Knighton challenge right away for the starting RB job, as he drew comparisons to former UM back Duke Johnson.

Knighton’s biggest weapon is his speed, clocking a 4.4 40-yard dash time in high school. Being the speedster that he is, Knighton is the kind of home-run threat that Miami hasn’t had at running back since perhaps Mark Walton. With long speed paired with tremendous patience, Knighton can be gone in a flash.

Listed at 5-10 and 178 pounds, Knighton isn’t the biggest guy in the backfield, but when you have speed like that, there’s not a great need to add too much weight to his frame.

To go along with this speed, Knighton also possesses a great deal of power when he runs the football, which is typically not seen in players like that. While he’s known as a barn-burner of a running back, he’s not afraid to lower his shoulder and take on defenders.

He also poses as a threat in the passing game as well, known for running crisp and smooth routes, then allowing his breakaway speed and vision to do the rest. His senior year, Knighton caught 13 passes, for 267 yards and 2 touchdowns, so look for him in the screen game.

If you look at Lashlee’s offense, he doesn't just rely on his starting running back to carry the majority load on the ground. In 2019, as OC at SMU, Lashlee’s no.2 RB, Ke’Mon Freeman, rushed for over 500 yards and carried the ball over 120 times, as he was an integral part of their offense. If Knighton can pick up in the fall where he left off in the spring, there’s little doubt in my mind he can be that second option behind Harris. It was clear during spring practice, Lashlee was impressed by the freshman.

Though, it’s not just at running back where Knighton can make an impact for the Canes in 2020, but many believe he can be a valuable weapon on special teams as well. Miami doesn’t have a clear punt/kick returner, Knighton can become that option. With flashing speed and shiftiness, Knighton could be electric returning kicks.

All in all, I can’t say enough about how excited I am to watch Knighton in 2020. It’s not a knock on the other running backs the Canes have, but there’s just that plus-factor which Knighton clearly possesses, that’ll hopefully be on full display in his first season.