In the Film Room: Milton Knox

Milton Knox

The nation's top running back and my top player nationally is St. Bonaventure standout Darrell Scott. Scott was a first team All-Southern California running back, but he wasn't the Southern California Player of the Year. That honor went to Birmingham Senior Milton Knox.

Darrell Scott is a phenomenal talent and clearly the nation's top running back. But this kind of honor shows that Milton Knox also possesses big-time talent and is one of the nation's top running backs.

Knox is on the shorter side but is built very well. At 5-foot-8 and 196 pounds, he is compact and low to the ground with a thick frame. That frame should allow him to easily carry over 200 pounds and still maintain his quickness and speed. His build allows him to play with a natural low center of gravity, good pad level, and makes him difficult to get low on for tacklers.

The three traits that standout the most in Knox's game are his foot quickness, vision, and power. Knox has very good footwork and balance. He is able to make quick moves, changes direction well, and is able to cut back across the grain without losing speed. What I also like about Knox's game is that he is efficient with his footwork out of the backfield. He doesn't waste a lot of motion. which allows him to get to and through the hole quickly.

The Van Nuys, CA native has outstanding vision. This might be his best asset as a running back. From the backfield he sees holes open, and as discussed previously, hits them quickly. Knox also does a good job of anticipating the back or jump cut and will hit it fast. I'm a big fan of the one-cut-and-go running backs and Knox fits that mold. He doesn't dance around on the field and has a reason for every cut he makes. You want your running back to allow the blocking scheme to develop. Knox shows good patience and instincts in this regard, which is an asset.

I've read some who have questioned Knox's "top end" speed. It's an attribute talent scouts and analysts love to throw around when discussing running backs. In my view it's one of the most overused and misunderstood skills and phrases in football. I could name you dozens of elite running backs in college football and in the NFL who are between 4.6 and 4.7 forty-yard dash runners.

I always talk about the Broncos so let's use them as an example. Terrell Davis was a 4.6-and-change runner coming out of college. But during his brief career in the NFL he was truly a dominant running back. Most will say it is due to the run schemes the Broncos use, but the Broncos have tried several backs in the last ten years and none have come close to matching the production of Terrell Davis. Davis ripped off a bunch of long runs during his career, including in big playoff games and in Super Bowl XXXII. What made Davis so great? It was his vision, power, short area quickness, ability to cut back, and the fact he was so quick to and through the hole. He lacked top end speed analysts covet but was one of the best running backs we have seen in the last 20 years.

Milton Knox has plenty of speed. He won't ever be confused with Clinton Portis, but you won't see him getting caught from behind very often. He gets through the hole and into the second level very quickly. He has enough speed from that point to hit the home run. He doesn't possess the tremendous speed of Darrell Scott but its good enough to give him a chance to be a very good college running back.

Knox is also a very physical running back and runs with good power. He runs through contact and has a very good leg drive. Knox never stops his feet and keeps very good balance through contact, which allows him to break tackles and pick up plenty of yards after initial contact. The Birmingham standout also has very good "shakes" and can make people miss on the second level and in the open field. What I like about Knox in this regard is that there is a purpose behind every cut he makes. He makes his cuts to make defenders miss and then he is gone. He is very efficient with his movements in this department as well. I also like the versatility that Knox brings to the table. With regards to Notre Dame, Knox comes from an offense that asks him to carry the football from the I formation and from the shotgun. This is how Notre Dame uses their running backs as well.

You have to like Knox's hunger as he nears the end zone. He has an extra gear when he closes in on the end zone. Not necessarily a speed but he just gets stronger when he approaches the end zone. He won't be denied if he gets a sniff of the goal line. That attribute helped Knox rush for 68 touchdowns over the last two seasons. In the limited opportunities to catch the football Knox showed good hands. I was able to see him catch a few passes (including a "wheel" route for a long touchdown against Crespi) as well as watch him return some kicks. His hands are soft for a running back, and he will catch the ball away from his body. He doesn't have a lot of experience in the pass game due to his high school system but has the tools to be a threat. He'll need work and experience on route running, reading the defense as a pass receiver, and moves to beat linebackers and safeties. I didn't see much of Knox blocking, which as we know is a key to the Notre Dame offense.

Knox needs to get better at quickly dipping into tacklers in the box and second level. In the open field he dips and will run through defenders. But often times inside the tackle box or quickly in the second level he isn't as smooth in this area and allows himself to be more of a target for defenders. Knox also needs to learn to keep the ball tighter to his body as he runs through the hole. It's okay in the open field to get a bit looser with the ball as long as it is secured. But when running through the hole, and when working in the linebacker level, it is absolutely imperative to keep the ball secured and tight to your body.

The California native had a monster senior campaign. He rushed for 2,210 yards, averaged 10.9 yards per carry, and had 39 rushing touchdowns. Those numbers are even more impressive when you look at the teams Birmingham played. Knox wasn't dominating against low level competition. He put up those numbers against a schedule that contained strong opponents like Notre Dame (Anthony McDonald, Wes Horton, Thaddeus Brown), Crespi (Joseph Fauria, E.J. Woods), Poly (Jurrell Casey, Vaughn Telemaque), Crenshaw (Kemonte Batemen, Clint Floyd), Taft, and Carson. Knox will get knocked for his size and perceived lack of speed. But when you watch him play he shows that he is pound-for-pound one of the most talented running backs in the class of 2008. Whichever school lands Knox is landing a versatile running back that can pound it in between the tackles and take it the distance in a variety of ways.

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