FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Joe McKnight’s first NFL practice was memorable for the wrong reason. A week after being drafted by the New York Jets in 2010, he showed up for rookie minicamp and threw up during practice.
It made for unflattering headlines, but McKnight overcame the rough start and became a dynamic kickoff returner for the Jets, especially in 2011 and 2012. He scored on a 107-yard return in 2011, the year he led the league in kickoff-return average.
McKnight was far from perfect — he fell out of favor with Rex Ryan’s coaching staff — but he was popular among teammates because of his sense of humor. Explaining his 16-pound weight gain at the start of offseason workouts in 2012, McKnight blamed his “McDonald’s diet.”
There was a happy-go-lucky side to his personality. He was the kid in school who got yelled at by the teachers but somehow endeared himself to his fellow students. He was a gifted player, one of the nation’s top high-school prospects before committing to USC, but he never fulfilled his immense potential.
On Thursday, McKnight was fatally shot in an apparent road-rage incident in New Orleans, where he was a legendary high-school running back. There was an outpouring of shock and sympathy from former teammates and other NFL players.
Rest In Peace to my bro Joe McKnight…this is unbelievable. Fly with the angels bro and rest in paradise. Heaven gained a real one today.
— Damon Harrison (@BigDame900) December 1, 2016
Just got a message saying my former teammate Joe McKnight was killed today. This hurt to the heart. I can’t stop crying. #RestInPeace
— ANTONIO CROMARTIE (@CRO31) December 1, 2016
Everybody in the world wanted to be @ReggieBush , us in New Orleans wanted to run the ball like Joe McKnight.
— Tyrann Mathieu (@Mathieu_Era) December 1, 2016
Damn…just reading the news about Joe McKnight! Just senseless violence man, great teammate & sense of humor. Rest in power….
— Damien Woody (@damienwoody) December 1, 2016
RIP Joe McKnight! Live life and love Hard!! Life is so short!! 🙏🏽🙏🏽🙏🏽
— Joe Haden (@joehaden23) December 1, 2016
— Mark Ingram II (@MarkIngram22) December 1, 2016
RIP my brother Joe McKnight this one hurts bad
— Reggie Bush (@ReggieBush) December 1, 2016
RIP Joe McKnight … Prayers up 2 the family..🙏🏾🙏🏾🙏🏾
— Demaryius Thomas (@DemaryiusT) December 1, 2016
In 2014, the Jets played a road game at the Kansas City Chiefs. McKnight, cut by the Jets, had caught on with the Chiefs, but he blew out his Achilles’ tendon and landed on injured reserve. He never got a chance to play against his old team, but he greeted them when the team bus pulled up to the hotel. There he was, waiting at the curb.