A Legacy of Position Changes at Arkansas

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Jason Peters, Trey Knox, Arkansas football
photo credit: Philadelphia Eagles / Arkansas Athletics

FAYETTEVILLE — When a player changes positions, the success rate can be a toss-up at best. That has proven to be the case across the country, as well as with Arkansas football.

For every Jason Peters and George Wilson, who made switches in the NFL, there’s a Daulton Hyatt and Levi Draper who make a change and are never heard from again.

It’s a small sample size at this point, but the Razorbacks seem to have more of the former with wide receiver-turned-tight end Trey Knox. In his first game with a full off-season at his new position, the senior caught six passes for 75 yards and two touchdowns in Arkansas’ 31-24 win over No. 23 Cincinnati on Saturday.

“Coming off the field on his second TD…I said, ‘You happy you moved to tight end?’” head coach Sam Pittman said after the game. “Those are special moments because you never know if it’s going to work out. Sometimes it doesn’t.”

That play put the Razorbacks up by 14 points and allowed them to breath a brief sigh of relief, as they had a two-possession lead with 9:26 left in the fourth quarter of their season-opening top-25 showdown.

Knox caught a short pass from KJ Jefferson, who couldn’t find anyone open downfield before dumping it down to his tight end, and he took off down the sideline. With the help of a block from Ketron Jackson Jr., he raced 32 yards to pay dirt.

“I told him ‘Heck yes,’” Knox said with his trademark big smile. “I might not’ve said ‘Heck,’ I don’t remember. I’m just excited, man. I told you, I’ve bought into playing tight end, and I think it’s a good move for me, and I’m just happy that I can help the team win.”

Even though he had to do more after the catch on his second touchdown, Knox’s first score was the more difficult play.

Lined up in the backfield, he went through the line acting as a lead blocker on a quarterback keeper, but snuck free behind the linebackers. Jefferson pulled up and threw a jump pass — a play made famous by Tim Tebow — that Knox came down with despite having a defender in his face.

“I ain’t gonna lie, I couldn’t find KJ when I turned back around,” Knox said. “Then I just see the ball float in the air, and I said ‘How am I gonna catch this?’ I started backpedaling (and) I’m not close to it, so I just kind of, like, jumped backwards. I mean, I caught the ball, so the rest is history, boss.”

It was the most receiving yards by an Arkansas tight end in a single game since Cheyenne O’Grady had 91 against Texas A&M in 2019 and the first multi-touchdown performance by a tight end since O’Grady did it against LSU and Alabama the year before that.

Getting to a point where a performance like that was even possible for Knox at that position, though, hasn’t been easy.

Trey Knox Transforming Into a Tight End

Saturday against Cincinnati wasn’t the first time Trey Knox played tight end for Arkansas football.

The former four-star wide receiver actually made the switch after a Week 1 win over Rice in which he played only three offensive snaps. Over the next four weeks, he got minimal action. In the current portal era, it wouldn’t have been surprising to see him transfer out, especially since the head coach (Chad Morris) and position coach (Justin Stepp) who recruited him were no longer here.

Knox even admitted to the thought crossing his mind, but ultimately decided to stick it out.

“I love the place, I love the people, I love the school and I want to be a Razorback and I want to help the team any way I can,” Knox said in a recent interview on the Hog Pod. “I don’t know who wouldn’t (have those thoughts) in my position. I just felt like I needed to stay here. … I have a life here and I love my life here, so why would I want to change it?”

It wasn’t until Week 6 at Ole Miss that Knox broke out as a tight end. In that game, he played 57 offensive snaps — nearly twice as many as the previous four games combined — and had 37 yards and a touchdown on five receptions, including a couple on the final drive.

Unfortunately, an injury in that game limited Knox the following week and kept him out of the UAPB game entirely. He still managed to finish with 20 receptions and 141 yards, with all of his production coming in six games.

That was just the beginning, as he was basically still a tight end in a wide receiver’s body. The offseason was critical for Knox and he showed he was up to the challenge by gaining the most weight on the team, packing on 30 pounds of good weight to look the part of an SEC tight end.

“He’s worked his tail off,” Pittman said. “He’s worked hard at tight end and, to be honest with you, he believes he’s a tight end. … He blocked well. I think it’s important to him. He caught the ball extremely well.”

While he’s always been a willing blocker, the additional weight helped Knox turn into a capable blocker. He is still working with Jefferson on the latter part and seems to have a nice connection with his fellow 2019 signee.

“(We’ve) been working that chemistry — throwing, getting connected, talking about what we’re thinking on every play that I have a route on,” Knox said. “I’m trying to figure out what KJ is thinking about so we can be on the page. I think that’s what’s helping us so far, and it’s going to continue to help us.”

Exactly how big of an impact Trey Knox has for Arkansas football this season remains to be seen, but Saturday was a solid start to his senior campaign.

Including his time as a wide receiver, the Murfreesboro, Tenn., native is up to 671 yards and six touchdowns on 61 receptions. As a heralded freshman, Knox was actually more productive than Treylon Burks early in the 2019 season.

Three years later, he’s mixing those receiver skills with his new tight end skillset and Sam Pittman has said numerous times that he believes Knox has the talent to play in the NFL — even if he’s so off the radar to start the season that a lot of NFL Draft sites haven’t even updated his profile to reflect the position change.

“I go against him all the time,” safety Simeon Blair said. “I felt like I knew he was gonna have a big game… He works his butt off each and every day. It was happy for me to see him be able to succeed after seeing him move from receiver to tight end, where he has to do a little bit more blocking but he still has receiver skills. So we know that he’s a mismatch for any team being a tight end.”

Knox could end up the next Arkansas football player to benefit from a position change. In addition to those who switched at the next level, such as Jason Peters going from tight end to left tackle, George Wilson going from wide receiver to safety and Matt Jones going from quarterback to wide receiver, the Razorbacks have had several others change while still on campus.

Most recently, Montaric Brown moved from safety to cornerback and became an All-SEC performer who got drafted. A few years before that, Kamren Curl did the opposite — going from cornerback to safety — and got drafted before an All-Rookie season with Washington.

There have also been a couple of recent examples of defensive tackles flipping to the other side and becoming starting offensive linemen with Austin Capps and Hjalte Froholdt, the latter of which did well enough to get drafted.

If all goes according to plan, Trey Knox will etch his name alongside those examples and hear his name called next April in the 2023 NFL Draft.

“I was happy for him that he had some big plays, but not really as a surprise,” Pittman said Monday. “I think as we continue to throw the ball more to wideouts and things, I think he’ll even become more productive.”

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