When the Denver Broncos added Terrance Knighton before the 2013 season, it was a transaction that went under the radar for most NFL fans. He wasn’t known nationally as “Pot Roast” yet, and he was mainly known as a draft pick of former Jacksonville Jaguars head coach (and current Broncos defensive coordinator) Jack Del Rio.
The Broncos signed Knighton to a two-year $4 million contract with hopes that he could rejuvenate his career with a fresh start. Del Rio knew how to get the best out of Knighton, and the team needed a big defensive tackle to help stuff the run.
The Broncos ended up getting more than they bargained for.
Knighton not only stuffed the run, but he created interior pressure and even hauled in an interception in 2013. Now the team is seeing Knighton transform into one of the biggest leaders on the defense.
Let’s look back at the transition and look ahead at what’s to come.
Knighton was a standout player in college at Temple. Having played defensive end and tight end in high school, Knighton moved inside to defensive tackle early during his college career.
He flashed good athleticism for a man his size, blocking four kicks during his time at Temple. Knighton was big enough to regularly eat up double-teams, but he was also strong enough to push the middle of the line.
His violent striking hands helped him disengage from blockers quickly, and Knighton used his long arms to wrap up ball-carriers that came within striking distance. He attracted a lot of attention from opponents, and Knighton had to learn how to quickly split double-teams so he could get further into the backfield.
On film at Temple he did have some mistakes to correct. He would get upright after blocks sometimes and lose his leverage. Knighton also needed to develop more moves as a pass-rusher.
I was impressed with Knighton during the week of practice for the 2009 Texas vs. The Nation Game in El Paso, Texas. Knighton showed great hand strength during drills, ripping blockers away from him and bursting through his opponent. That game helped showcase the kind of player he could be in the pros.
Originally a third-round pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars, Knighton surprised some in the scouting community by getting drafted that high. Knighton was able to prove himself immediately.
He saw a lot of playing time early in his career with the Jaguars. Over his first two seasons, Knighton played over 1,400 snaps and compiled 79 tackles and 5.5 sacks. His next two seasons saw a decline in snaps, and he missed three games in 2011.
Jacksonville let him become an unrestricted free agent, and the Broncos were quick to scoop him up.
In his first season with the Broncos, Knighton played the most snaps (571) of any defensive lineman. He racked up 31 tackles, three sacks and one interception in the regular season and added 12 tackles and a sack in the postseason.
As the Broncos enjoyed great success in a record-setting season, Knighton’s national presence was on the rise. He’s become such a big star with the Broncos, Knighton starred in a commercial for Bridgestone tires.
Knighton said most people he talks to comment on his co-star in the commercial.
“Everybody’s talking about the bulldog actually. They’re shocked to see me in it but the dog stole the show, and I’m sort of like an extra. Everybody’s just tweeting me saying, ‘Oh the dog!’ and they’re talking about how cute the dog was, and I’m like, ‘Well I’m pretty handsome.’ (laughing). But they’re just talking about the dog.”
In addition to his statistical production, Knighton contributed in ways the box score won’t reflect.
Knighton was a fantastic mentor to first-round pick Sylvester Williams in 2013. Williams was thrust into the lineup after Kevin Vickerson was lost for the year with a hip injury he suffered in the Week 12 game against the New England Patriots.
The defense needed Knighton to elevate his game, and he responded by doing just that. He elevated his game even further as the Broncos made their postseason run to the Super Bowl. Knighton was able to stay on the field in certain nickel packages, and he flashed the ability to quickly create interior pressure in obvious passing situations.
Knighton has been busy this offseason defending the Broncos. During the NBA Finals, Arizona Cardinals free safety Tyrann Mathieu tweeted as the Miami Heat were getting blown out in Game 5. Knighton reminded the young player which team is on the Cardinals 2014 schedule.
Don't worry. Y'all on the schedule RT @Mathieu_Era: This is turning out to be worse than the super bowl..— Terrance Knighton (@MrKnighton2u) June 16, 2014
When asked about his response to Mathieu, Knighton replied honestly.
“I mean if it was someone who’s been to a Super Bowl or if it was like a Peyton Manning figure in the league, OK cool. But I just felt like—I took it personally. And I knew the risk of writing back, but I’m just one of those guys. I don’t take any nonsense, especially from other players, and him being in the fraternity of playing football, he should have known better.” Knighton concluded, “But like I said, they’re on the schedule and we’ve got a heck of an offense, and we’ll see what he tweets after that.”
In a recent interview on ESPN’s First Take, Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner said that he believed the Broncos were scared in the Super Bowl. Knighton again went to Twitter to defend his team.
I welcome all the Seahawks players and fans to dwell on last year. We reloading and we ready for war. #snodaaaaaat— Terrance Knighton (@MrKnighton2u) July 15, 2014
His play on the field was outstanding last year, but his offseason defense has made him an even bigger fan favorite in Broncos Country.
The Broncos have a ton of talent on the defensive side of the ball thanks to the quality additions they made earlier this offseason—but they don’t have anybody else like Knighton up front.
The veteran defensive tackle has some goals in mind for the 2014 season.
“Me, personally, I want to be a Pro Bowler. I want to be the best tackle in the NFL. Right now me and ‘Sly’ (DT Sylvester Williams) are working nose and three-technique, so I want to be the best nose tackle I can be. Right now I’m just watching future opponents and trying to build off how I played later in the season last year once I got into a good rhythm.” Knighton concluded, “Right now, just trying to get better and not trying to take steps backwards.”
With the way his career has taken flight in Denver, don’t ever count Knighton out. #snodaaaaaat
All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via email from the Denver Broncos. Contract and salary-cap information provided by Spotrac.com. Transaction history provided by ProSportsTransactions.com.
Cecil Lammey can be followed on Twitter @CecilLammey