The Jets family received tragic news with word that former running back and kick returner Joe McKnight was killed as the result of a shooting following an argument at an intersection in Terrytown, LA, a suburb of New Orleans, this afternoon. He was 28.
The Times-Picayune reports that family members at the scene identified the shooting victim as McKnight, who was a standout high school player at John Curtis Christian School in nearby River Ridge, LA, before going on to Southern Cal and the NFL. The shooting occurred about 3 p.m. CT at the intersection of Berman Highway and Holmes Boulevard.
A witness, who declined to give her name, said she was leaving a store in the area when she saw a man at the intersection yelling at another man, who was trying to apologize. The man who was yelling shot the other man more than once, she said.
"Joe McKnight was a loving father and a genuine, kind-hearted person," said the Jets in a statement released by the team. "It is sad when life is taken in what appears to be such a senseless act of violence. Joe, you will be missed."
McKnight came to the Jets as their fourth-round selection (112th overall) in the 2010 NFL Draft. He played his first three NFL seasons with the Jets, wearing uniform No. 25, and showed at times remarkable physical skills in rushing for 502 yards on 112 carries (4.5 yards/carry) and gaining 177 yards on 17 receptions (10.4 yards/reception).
He really got on Jets fans' radar in the 2010 regular-season finale against the Bills at New Meadowlands Stadium, before the Jets headed to the playoffs for the second straight year. He carried 32 times for 158 yards in that victory that lifted the Jets to 11-5.
But McKnight will be remembered for his special teams play, particularly in 2011. He began that season with a blocked punt of Dallas' Mat McBriar that Isaiah Trufant returned for an 18-yard touchdown, sparking the Jets' 27-24 comeback win over the Cowboys on their Sept. 11 Sunday night season opener at MetLife Stadium.
"I'm working hard to get people to like me," the likable McKnight said shortly after that blocked punt.
Then came Joe's kickoff returns. He led the NFL in 2011 with a franchise-record 31.6-yard average on 34 returns. One of his returns went for a 107-yard score in the Sunday night game at Baltimore on Oct. 2, 2011, a play that remains the longest play of any kind in franchise history.
"It's hard but it's easy at the same time," McKnight said light-heartedly of his return skills under the tutelage of then-special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff. "You've got Westhoff screaming at you all day, but it's easy because I got so many good blocks. Like John Conner, Jamaal Westerman, Josh Mauga, Matt Mulligan, Marcus Dixon — so many good blockers out there. All I have to do is just catch it and run. I really don't have to make any moves, just run straight ahead and get to the end zone."
McKnight got to the end zone only one other time as a Jet, in 2012 when he raced to a 100-yard kickoff return against Houston at MetLife, and in that season he averaged 27.5 yards on 39 returns. But his athleticism impressed then-head coach Rex Ryan and his staff so much that they even played him at cornerback for two plays the game before the return TD against the Texans.
"You can't take away his God-given talent," Ryan said. "That's something he has. He's also shown that he's got playmaking skills. Forcing a fumble, blocking a punt, returning a kick 107 yards, forcing an interception. The kid has talent."
McKnight was waived by the Jets in August 2013, then signed with Kansas City the following January and played two games for the Chiefs with one carry, six receptions and three kickoff returns. This year he played in the CFL with Edmonton and Saskatchewan.