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Rookie Zonovan 'Bam' Knight's meteoric rise with Jets: From slow 40 to fast 48

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- A look at what's happening around the New York Jets:

1. Knight time: Zonovan "Bam" Knight's sudden emergence from practice-squad player to RB1 is proof that the stopwatch lies sometimes. It can make fools of the best scouting departments. The Jets refused to be suckered by the watch during their evaluation of Knight.

Knight, a highly productive player at North Carolina State, ran one of the slowest times in the 40-yard dash for a running back at the 2022 NFL combine -- 4.62 seconds. That surprised the Jets' scouts because they felt he played faster than that. He was only slightly better on his second try -- 4.58. Instead of downgrading him, the Jets leaned on their fall evaluation, which is to say they trusted their eyes.

The Jets graded him a "draftable" player and, when he went undrafted, they signed him as a free agent with a $130,000 guarantee even though they had picked Breece Hall in the second round. Knight, who expected to go in the fifth or sixth round, said his draft experience was "miserable."

Pressed into action because of injuries to Hall and Michael Carter, Knight is ninth in rushing yards (157) and eighth in yards from scrimmage (221) in the NFL over the past two weeks. He's third among running backs in rushing yards over expected (43), per NFL Next Gen Stats -- a fancy stat that means he's squeezing more out of the orange than most.

"He's got that little extra juice and fresh legs," coach Robert Saleh said.

Running backs have been devalued in recent years. Backs who barely break 4.6 in the 40 really get devalued, but Knight has been an absolute discovery for the Jets. It took time, though.

He spent 11 weeks on the practice squad before being elevated, initially to replace the ineffective James Robinson. There was a sense in the organization that he would get an eventual shot, simply because of the Jets' offense and the way it wears on running backs. Look at the San Francisco 49ers; they go through four or five backs a year.

Knight will retain a significant role even though Carter is back this week. As Saleh said, "[Knight] isn't going anywhere."

As for his slow 40, Knight said he over-prepared and put too much pressure on himself. He's definitely not that guy. He hit 19.94 mph last week on his 48-yard run, the league's fastest speed for a running back on a rushing play in Week 13, per tracking by NFL Next Gen Stats.

"Pure gas," Saleh said.

2. What's in a name? Knight gets asked all the time about his Bam nickname. The genesis:

As a toddler, he liked banging his toys in the playpen. One day his uncle walked by and said, "All you hear is bam, bam, bam!" It stuck as a family nickname. He was known as Bam in rec ball because Zonovan was too hard to pronounce and, when he posted his high school highlights to Hudl.com, he identified himself as Zonovan "Bam" Knight. And there you go.

3. QB crystal ball: While Saleh continues to kick the can down the road on the quarterback position, one week at a time, the upcoming schedule allows us to formulate a prediction on how this might play out.

Unless Mike White has an utter meltdown Sunday against the Buffalo Bills, he figures to start against the Detroit Lions in Week 15. Yes, he has enough collateral to withstand a mediocre performance. The Jets have a quick turnaround, facing the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday night (Dec. 22). A short week is hardly ideal for a quarterback change. At that point, they can go into the mini-bye over Christmas weekend, using the extra time to evaluate White and where they are as a team in relation to the playoff race.

If they're in the thick of it, the Jets are likely to roll with White the rest of the way. If not, they can go to the bullpen for Zach Wilson, giving the deposed starter a last chance to leave a positive impression before the offseason.

This seems like a logical timetable. Of course, when it comes to the Jets and quarterbacks, it rarely goes as expected.

4. Rare occasion: The Jets and Bills have an odd rivalry. When one team is up, the other is down. That makes Sunday so special -- it's meaningful for both teams.

The last time the AFC East rivals met in December with both teams carrying a winning record into the game was Dec. 19, 1998 -- a 17-10 win by the Jets to clinch their first division title since the 1970 merger. The snapshot many players never will forget is then-coach Bill Parcells choking up with emotion as he addressed the team in the postgame locker room.

5. A month later: The vibe on offense has changed so much from last month's 20-17 win over the Bills. In that game, it was Wilson handing off to Carter and Robinson. Elijah Moore was invisible at wide receiver. Now the Jets have the "White Knight" backfield, with Moore once again a factor on the outside. They have more speed to attack Buffalo's outstanding defense.

6. AmaZing: Remember when the Jets' kicking position was a revolving door of castoffs? Actually, it shouldn't be that hard to recall because it was only last year ... and the year before that ... and -- well, you get the point.

Greg Zuerlein has changed the narrative.

After a down season with the Dallas Cowboys, Zuerlein, 34, has brought consistency to the Jets. His season is comparable to that of Jason Myers, whose performance in 2018 was arguably the best in franchise history and earned him All-Pro recognition. Myers made 91% of his field goals, including 6 of 7 from 50-plus yards. And then he left for a free-agent deal with the Seattle Seahawks.

Zuerlein stands at 85%, including 6 of 8 in the 50-plus range. That he's had some rough weather conditions makes it more impressive. His signature moment came last week indoors -- a franchise-record 60-yarder. Special teams coordinator Brant Boyer believes it had enough distance for 65 to 67 yards. The longest field goal in league history is 66 yards, set by the Baltimore Ravens' Justin Tucker in 2021.

"He has the leg talent to break the NFL record, I really believe that," Boyer said of Zuerlein.

7. Did you know? Only one player on defense has played every single snap: safety Lamarcus Joyner. We're talking about 767 snaps, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. That's quite an accomplishment for Joyner, considering he played only nine in 2021 due to a season-ending injury in Week 1. Cornerback D.J. Reed has missed only one snap, and that occurred last Sunday. Dealing with an illness, he went to the sideline for a play to catch his breath.

8. Missing on D: The Jets have made a massive leap on defense, but their third-down ranking is only 21st and they have yet to score a touchdown. The truly elite defenses dominate third down and take it to the house on occasion.

9. The Mighty Jets: A handful of players, including White, created a buzz on social media last Sunday by showing up for the game wearing Mighty Ducks hockey jerseys. Tight end C.J. Uzomah wore a Mighty Ducks jersey to an earlier game, so center Connor McGovern thought it would be cool if a bunch of guys wore the jersey to the Vikings game because Minneapolis is where the original "Mighty Ducks" movie was filmed in the early 1990s. Uzomah bought the extra jerseys. Hence, a fashion statement.

10. Two on Q: Defensive tackle Quinnen Williams already has a career-high nine sacks. That's doubly impressive when you consider how much attention he draws. He has been double-teamed on 64% of his pass rushes, 12th among interior linemen, per ESPN Stats & Info research. That's up from 58% in 2021.