Former Jets shocked and saddened by Joe McKnight tragedy


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.

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.

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