Johnny Knox belonged in the NFL because of one thing: speed. There are a lot of traits that will set one up for success as a professional football player. No one’s getting anywhere without healthy resilience, the ability to digest and learn complex responsibilities, or a picture-perfect physique. But speed? Speed kills. Speed can’t be taught. You either have it, or you don’t. Speed makes you not only the most important man on the field but the most dangerous. Knox had it in spades.
Knox made his living by humiliating defenders over the top as a Texas high school football standout and Division II dynamo at Abilene Christian University. Most of this then-astonishing 30 touchdowns in two seasons at ACU came when he made defensive backs involuntarily nip at his heels when they grasped at air and found nothing in their arms. By the time Knox’s turn to impress the big leagues came around, he had run a blazing 4.34 40-yard dash at the 2009 NFL Scouting Combine and dazzled. Given Knox’s lightfoot reputation, it felt like a mere formality rather than a significant shock in hindsight.
If there was a steep learning curve that stumped many rookies, Knox never showed signs of a struggle. From the get-go, he was a favorite target of Jay Cutler and his rocket arm. It was not an uncommon sight to see Cutler launch a seemingly uncatchable bomb that eventually nestled its way into Knox’s arms — way downfield.
When the Bears hired Mike Martz and implemented his version of the aggressive “Air Coryell” passing offense, Knox predictably blossomed. From 2010 to 2011, Knox never averaged less than 18 yards a reception. Throughout his three-year career, the football version of The Flash amassed an astonishing 36 20-yard-plus receptions and eight marked over 40 yards. Knox was the epitome of a big play, which could happen in a blink of an eye, sometimes faster.
But for as gifted as Knox was, his football prowess on the brightest stage wasn’t meant to last. In a late-season matchup against the Seattle Seahawks in 2011, Knox suffered a devastating back injury that necessitated stabilizing several vertebrae in his back. While he maintained the full sensation of all limbs and eventually recovered enough for everyday life outside of football, Knox never found a manageable way back to the NFL in a healthy capacity. His subsequent retirement in 2013 marked the end of what could have, should have and would have been.
Knox didn’t fail in the NFL because his coaches or teammates didn’t believe in him. No, not in the least. He was an exceptional downfield talent, and every one of his connections summarily recognized that ability. It was a cruel game, often taking no prisoners when it comes to injury that didn’t give the speedster a fair shake. It robbed him of what should have been years of placing hapless cornerbacks on humiliating highlight reels. It stole his vitality and his speed.
Knox should have had a remarkable Bears career. But football isn’t always fair.
Now it’s your turn.
Which Bears player, in your mind, didn’t receive a fair shake?