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2022 Miami Hurricanes Player Preview: Jaylan Knighton

The Canes have a loaded backfield, but Jaylan “The Rooster” Knighton is Primed for Breakout Season in his First Draft-Eligible Season

NCAA Football: Miami at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Hurricanes have an absolutely loaded backfield, but if there is a back familiar with the Canes personnel and ready to be the bellcow, it’s Deerfield Beach product, Jaylan Knighton.

Knighton stepped up last season as the team’s starting running back after veteran ball carrier, Cam’Ron Harris, went down due to injury. And in his two seasons at the U, Knighton has strung together an impressive 770 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns. On top of that, he has been a reliable dropdown option for his signal caller as he has 31 receptions for 415 yards and four receiving touchdowns - a welcome factor for Tyler Van Dyke.

And in his first draft-eligible season, Knighton - nicknamed “The Rooster” - is ready to explode even more.

Knighton is the marquis piece in Miami’s backfield that includes the likes of Don Chaney Jr., transfer Henry Parrish, Thad Franklin Jr., and freshman TreVonte Citizen. Knighton, an all-purpose ball carrier from the 2020 class, was ranked 106th in the 247Sports Composite recruiting group. The 5-10, 190lb third-year Sophomore also brings an element of kick returning.

With his compact frame, Knighton offers a strong mix of explosion and instinct to deliver a threat at any point on the field with his long speed. The combination of quickness and fluid change of direction gives him an advantage in the short game and big play alike with elite footwork. Knighton does not bring the bruising ability similar to Franklin but is a third-down pass-catching option with his reliable hands. Even if he is not a bruising back, the current offensive line-minded staff will ensure he implements more blocking acumen to his game when he does not have the ball in his hands.

Thus far in his career, Knighton averages less than 4.0 yards a carry, but the Canes welcome offensive coordinator, Josh Gattis, who will be able to maximize Knighton’s prowess. Of note, Gattis’ Michigan backfield of Hassan Haskins, Blake Corum, and Donovan Edwards averaged 5.5 yards a carry in 2021.

Gattis unlocked the offense once he realized the key to “explosive plays” was getting the ball to the backs, players who were capable of bolstering the rushing attack by also mixing in fakes, reverses, end-arounds, and jet sweeps, which ultimately led to home runs behind the blocking schemes and limiting negative plays in a fast-paced offense with smart execution.

That combination should be music to Knighton’s ears as he sets off for a breakout season in year three. Not only that, but Miami welcomes new running backs coach, Kevin Smith, who was announced to the position on January 14th of this year and assisted with bringing in Ole Miss transfer, Parrish. Most importantly, Miami obviously welcomes offensive line minded coaches in head coach, Mario Cristobal and offensive line coach, Alex Mirabal, who will seek to overhaul the trenches. That block first offense discipline should be able to establish a run-heavy attack that will allow Knighton to exhibit his elusive and patient skillset between the blockers.

The Canes have a long recent lineage of RBs that have made their way to the NFL including Duke Johnson, Lamar Miller, Gus Edwards, Mark Walton, Travis Homer, and DeeJay Dallas. With a loaded backfield this year, Knighton appears most primed to be RB1 and elevate himself to that next level.

If he stays healthy, he’ll put up numbers and highlights that allow him the opportunity to stamp his way into the NFL just like his predecessors.

1200 Rushing Yards
12 Touchdowns
35 Receptions
300 Receiving Yards
4 Receiving Touchdowns
Kick Returner