CHICAGO (BVM) – Johnny Knox was a longshot to ever make the NFL, but once he did, his combination of elite speed and route running had many in the Windy City believing that the fifth-round pick would be a fixture of the Chicago Bears for years to come.
Unfortunately, a severe spinal injury Knox suffered in 2011 abruptly ended what appeared to be a promising NFL career. Bears fans still remember Knox’s penchant for big plays and long kickoff returns despite his limited time in Chicago.
Johnny Knox’s college career
After graduating from Channelview High School (Texas) in 2005, Knox didn’t qualify academically so he was forced to take the junior college route. The Houston native enrolled at Tyler Junior College where he majored in general studies and suited up in just four of the Apaches’ nine games as a freshman, catching eight passes for two touchdowns.
As a sophomore, Knox led all junior college receivers with 884 yards and 12 touchdowns before leading all JUCO receivers again with 886 yards the next year in his junior campaign. Back-to-back impressive seasons led Rivals.com to rank him as the No. 9 junior college receiver in the Class of 2007. That led to Knox’s decision to transfer to Abilene Christian University where he was originally listed as a backup wide receiver to begin his debut season before quickly moving into a starting role.
Knox finished his first season at ACU with 62 receptions for 1,158 yards and a school-record 17 touchdowns. His 17 touchdowns were the third-most in Division II that season and his 1,158 yards were the fourth-most receiving yards in ACU history. Despite attracting more attention from opposing defenses in 2008, Knox still went off for 56 catches, 1,069 yards and 13 touchdowns as ACU went 11-0 before losing in the third round of the D2 playoffs.
Knox earned second-team All-America honors in 2008 and his 30 touchdown receptions in two seasons were the most in ACU history.
Johnny Knox’s NFL career
Knox was selected in the fifth round (140th overall) of the 2009 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears after running a 4.34 40-yard dash, the third-fastest time among rookies at the 2009 NFL Scouting Combine.
— Texas Sports Hall of Fame (@TXSportsHOF) April 26, 2016
In his Bears debut, Knox caught two passes for 82 yards, including a 68-yard catch from Jay Cutler, in Chicago’s season-opening loss to the Green Bay Packers. The next week, he scored his first NFL touchdown on a third down to tie the game and then two weeks after that, he channeled his inner Devin Hester by taking a kickoff back 102 yards for a touchdown.
𝐎𝐜𝐭𝐨𝐛𝐞𝐫 𝟒, 𝟐𝟎𝟎𝟗
— This Day in Chicago Sports (@ChiSportsDay) October 4, 2020
Knox suffered a season-ending ankle injury later in the year against the Vikings and finished his rookie campaign with 45 receptions for 527 yards and five touchdowns. He also ranked second in the NFL for return yard average (29.0) and was selected to the NFC roster for the 2010 Pro Bowl, replacing Minnesota’s Percy Harvin. Knox returned four kicks for 103 yards in his Pro Bowl debut.
The next season, Knox picked up where left off by leading the Bears in receiving yards (960) and tying for the team lead in both receptions (51) and receiving touchdowns (5). He was having a similarly strong season in 2011 – when he led the Bears in receiving yards (727) and ranked second in the NFL in yards per reception (19.6) – until a day that will live on in infamy for both Knox and the Bears.
Johnny Knox’s injury
On December 18, 2011, Chicago hosted the Seattle Seahawks and just four minutes into the game, Knox caught a pass over the middle from quarterback Caleb Hanie. After Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor knocked the ball loose, Knox dove to recover his fumble as he collided with 6-foot-3, 272-pound defensive end Anthony Hargrove in a scramble for the loose ball.
𝐃𝐞𝐜𝐞𝐦𝐛𝐞𝐫 𝟏𝟖, 𝟐𝟎𝟏𝟏 | 🙏
Johnny Knox suffers an injury that would unfortunately end his career.
Knox finished his career with 133 receptions and 12 touchdowns. pic.twitter.com/ZSWRpBqkEo
— This Day in Chicago Sports (@ChiSportsDay) December 18, 2019
The massive collision bent Knox’s back in gruesome fashion and required immediate surgery to stabilize an injured vertebrae. Hargrove later personally apologized for his role in the injury and despite maintaining sensation in all limbs following the incident, Knox laid on the Soldier Field grass in pain for several minutes before being wheeled off on a stretcher. He ultimately suffered a thoracolumbar fracture-dislocation and was placed on injured reserve the following day.
It would be the final game of Knox’s NFL career as he spent the start of the 2012 season on Chicago’s physically unable to perform (PUP) list. He was unable to fully recover from the injury even after extensive rehabilitation and therapy. Since the injury, Knox walks with a limp and is unable to stand without discomfort.
The Bears released Knox on February 12, 2013, and on the next day, he announced his retirement.
Here is some Johnny Knox nostalgia to start your Friday morning 🐻⬇️pic.twitter.com/Jvhlvwd86k
— Bears Nation (3-6) (@BearsNationCHI) August 13, 2021
Where is Johnny Knox now?
Knox’s career-ending injury occurred just five days after Knox and his wife, SanDerriqua, welcomed their second of four children, Johnny Knox III, to the world.
In 2015, Knox was hired by former Bears head coach Lovie Smith as a coaching intern with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This experience led to Knox becoming the wide receivers coach at Carmel High School (IL) in 2018 where he teamed up with former Bears Nathan Vasher and Blake Annen on the Corsairs’ coaching staff.
30 (Carmel) Facts in 30 Days
Bear Down, Chicago Bears! And also to our three former Monsters of the Midway who now serve on our football coaching staff: Head Coach Blake Annen, Receivers Coach Johnny Knox, and Tight Ends coach Jason McKie. @CarmelCorsairs @Carmel_Football pic.twitter.com/kIEDItfZth
— Carmel Catholic High School (@CCHSCorsairs) September 2, 2019