The beefy defensive tackle, an under-heralded free agent signing by the Broncos in the 2013 offseason, has emerged as a leader for the Broncos defense, and Denver's opponent this week, the San Diego Chargers, served as the impetus. Knighton was vocally fed up with his teammates' collective performance following Denvers' Week 15 loss to San Diego, and DenverBroncos.com's Andrew Mason has chronicled Knighton's mission to right this wrong in an excellent article published today. I recommend you read it in its entirety.
"It was immediate frustration," Knighton tells the official site. "After the second Charger game, I pulled the whole defense aside and said, 'Look, we've got to figure it out. It's too late in the season to still be trying to feel our way through things. Relying on the offense, or whatever it is, we have to find something, and we have to do our part.
"The group responded. Guys had a chance to air their feelings out and say how they felt guys were playing. Nobody took anything personal. It showed against Houston, it showed against Oakland. The feeling I get right now for the defense, is that we're ready to play our best football."
In particular, Knighton called out rookie teammate Sylvester Williams, asking him to play a larger role in filling Kevin Vickerson's shoes since the veteran DT was placed on Injured Reserve. The rookie responded in the season's final two weeks with three tackles for loss, a sack, and a fumble recovery in his two games since.
"Tremendous," Champ Bailey told Mason of Knighton. "I didn't know him before he got here, but just to be able to come in and figure out where he fits in and know his role, but also understand that he's a leader on this team. And we need him to be that."
What I love about Knighton's fire, above all else, is that he is not just leading in words alone; he is leading by example. When you look back at Knighton's performance in Week 15 against the San Diego Chargers, he was one of the lone Broncos who really could hold his head up high after the performance. He graded above all other Broncos players that week, according to ProFootballFocus.com - higher than Peyton Manning, higher than Von Miller, and higher than Louis Vasquez, who regularly graded as Denver's top three performers.
Knighton played his best, then expected everyone around him to do the same. In that way, he has become the Peyton Manning of the Broncos' defense.