Prospect profile: Joe McKnight, RB, USC

Sporting News’ Pro Football War Room has hundreds of player evaluations in preparation for the 2010 NFL draft. Here is a capsule look at prospect Joe McKnight:

NFL position: RB
Height: 6-0
Weight: 190
40 time: 4.45
Current projection: Third round

There are questions about McKnight's ability to shed pro defenders.
There are questions about McKnight’s ability to shed pro defenders.

Strengths: Is an elite athlete with top-level explosiveness and playing speed. Can stop and start in a flash, which helps him make quick, sharp cuts and make tacklers miss. Has the explosive cutting ability to get to and through holes fast. Combines good balance, agility and coordination to make tacklers miss; is a legit TD threat any time he gets the ball in the open field. Has foot quickness to accelerate to full speed in a flash; outruns some players with angles on him and gets the corner when he bounces runs outside. Has natural, soft hands. Catches the ball well out of the backfield and is a dangerous runner after the catch. Has shown the ability to be a dangerous returner.

Weaknesses: Has a slight frame and struggled in college to avoid injuries, including many minor dings; must prove he is tough enough for the NFL. Is not an aggressive runner and has a tendency to dance to avoid contact while searching for a hole. Tries to bounce almost all rushing attempts outside if he does not see a hole initially; will not lower shoulder and attack line of scrimmage to gain tough yardage. Is not good in short-yardage situations. Runs upright, leading to hard hits and limiting his ability to run after contact. Does not gain nearly as many yards after contact as you would expect for someone with his elusiveness. Uses bad technique as a pass blocker; often lunges at rusher’s feet rather than stepping up and blocking aggressively. Does not seem like an instinctive runner; often fails to follow blockers like the play calls for. Had ball-security issues in college; needs to do a better job of wrapping up ball with both hands.

Bottom line: McKnight left school early for the draft and definitely could have helped his stock by staying in school for another season. He lacks the thickness to be a durable NFL starter and will have to prove he is tough enough to be a major contributor at the next level. There is little doubt that he has the elite athleticism, top-end playing speed and explosiveness to make big plays when he gets the ball in the open field, but he is not a tough or aggressive runner, and he struggles to gain yards after contact. While many want to compare McKnight to Reggie Bush, who has been a disappointment in the NFL, McKnight was not close to being the player Bush was at USC. We have a feeling McKnight will be over-drafted because of the athleticism he will show at the Combine and in his personal workout. We would not use a first or second-round pick on him because we have not seen enough to be confident he will become a productive NFL player. He is best suited to be a mid-round pick who can be tried as a third-down back. To succeed in that role, he must greatly improve his pass blocking and protect the ball much better.

For more than 200 player scouting reports from Russ Lande and his team of former NFL scouts — plus updated mock draft, Super 99 rankings and more — go to warroom.sportingnews.com.

Sporting News’ Pro Football War Room has hundreds of player evaluations in preparation for the 2010 NFL draft. Here is a capsule look at prospect Joe McKnight:

NFL position: RB
Height: 6-0
Weight: 190
40 time: 4.45
Current projection: Third round

There are questions about McKnight's ability to shed pro defenders.
There are questions about McKnight’s ability to shed pro defenders.

Strengths: Is an elite athlete with top-level explosiveness and playing speed. Can stop and start in a flash, which helps him make quick, sharp cuts and make tacklers miss. Has the explosive cutting ability to get to and through holes fast. Combines good balance, agility and coordination to make tacklers miss; is a legit TD threat any time he gets the ball in the open field. Has foot quickness to accelerate to full speed in a flash; outruns some players with angles on him and gets the corner when he bounces runs outside. Has natural, soft hands. Catches the ball well out of the backfield and is a dangerous runner after the catch. Has shown the ability to be a dangerous returner.

Weaknesses: Has a slight frame and struggled in college to avoid injuries, including many minor dings; must prove he is tough enough for the NFL. Is not an aggressive runner and has a tendency to dance to avoid contact while searching for a hole. Tries to bounce almost all rushing attempts outside if he does not see a hole initially; will not lower shoulder and attack line of scrimmage to gain tough yardage. Is not good in short-yardage situations. Runs upright, leading to hard hits and limiting his ability to run after contact. Does not gain nearly as many yards after contact as you would expect for someone with his elusiveness. Uses bad technique as a pass blocker; often lunges at rusher’s feet rather than stepping up and blocking aggressively. Does not seem like an instinctive runner; often fails to follow blockers like the play calls for. Had ball-security issues in college; needs to do a better job of wrapping up ball with both hands.

Bottom line: McKnight left school early for the draft and definitely could have helped his stock by staying in school for another season. He lacks the thickness to be a durable NFL starter and will have to prove he is tough enough to be a major contributor at the next level. There is little doubt that he has the elite athleticism, top-end playing speed and explosiveness to make big plays when he gets the ball in the open field, but he is not a tough or aggressive runner, and he struggles to gain yards after contact. While many want to compare McKnight to Reggie Bush, who has been a disappointment in the NFL, McKnight was not close to being the player Bush was at USC. We have a feeling McKnight will be over-drafted because of the athleticism he will show at the Combine and in his personal workout. We would not use a first or second-round pick on him because we have not seen enough to be confident he will become a productive NFL player. He is best suited to be a mid-round pick who can be tried as a third-down back. To succeed in that role, he must greatly improve his pass blocking and protect the ball much better.

For more than 200 player scouting reports from Russ Lande and his team of former NFL scouts — plus updated mock draft, Super 99 rankings and more — go to warroom.sportingnews.com.

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