Kadarius Toney Fantasy
When the Giants selected Kadarius Toney with the 20th overall pick in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, he was the first real “surprise” selection on the offensive side of the ball. The fourth wide receiver taken few viewed him as a first-round selection, let alone a top-five wideout in what was widely considered a fairly deep position for the class. Toney is a big play waiting to happen and joins the Giants after a breakout senior season in which he threatened 1,000 receiving yards and found the end zone ten times as a receiver, as well as on the ground and as a returner. Before the 2020 season, he had totaled just over 1,000 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns across 27 career games, shuttling back and forth between the receiver and running back positions. A true boom-bust pick, he represents a much different direction than many imagined for New York going into the night.
It was hardly a secret that the Giants were targeting Devonta Smith with the 11th overall pick, and when the Dolphins opted for his former teammate, wide receiver Jaylen Waddle at six, Smith landing in New York seemed almost inevitable. Enter the division-rival Philadelphia Eagles, who pulled off a mid-draft trade and leap-frogged the Giants to nab Smith one pick ahead of them at number ten. Smartly, the Giants then opted to trade down in the first round, dealing the pick that would become quarterback Justin Fields to Chicago, and moving down to pick number 20 in exchange for the Bears first and fifth-round picks in this draft and first and fourth-round picks next season.
At the time, this seemed like a shrewd move from a franchise that isn’t known for being particularly nimble when it comes to draft day dealings. The problem is that the Giants stuck to their original plan of selecting a receiver in the first round, but instead of drafting a more proven positional upgrade like Rashod Bateman or Elijah Moore, New York opted to swing for the fences with Kadarius Toney. As I noted in Toney’s pre-draft profile he’s still a bit of a work in progress and I feared that some team was going to fall in love with his speed, elusiveness, and big-play ability, and as a result, wind up reaching up into the first round to take him.
Dave Gettleman and the New York Giants: Come on down!
Without question, Toney can be electric with the ball in his hands. But given his landing spot, how it gets there and at whose expense, raises significant questions. While he can help special teams immediately, the draft capital invested by New York suggests that they will want to get him on the field more often. The challenge is that Toney, a converted running back, spent just one year as a full-time receiver at Florida and his 2020 production still relied heavily on frequent wide receiver screens and jet sweeps rather than a downfield route tree. That’s not to say that he can’t succeed at the next level as a route runner, but he’s far from polished at this stage in his career, and it’s likely the Giants will need to figure out how to manufacture touches for him initially.
The conventional wisdom is that this is likely a “prove it” season for third-year quarterback Daniel Jones as the Giants look to determine his long-term viability as their starting quarterback. With that in mind, Toney doesn’t seem like a logical fit the way Smith did, at least not in year one. That’s not to say that he can’t be a valuable addition to the Giants offense, but it’s difficult not to have concerns about Toney’s fantasy value as a rookie, largely because he lacks a defined skill set that separates him from the rest of the Giants skill position depth chart.
Kenny Golladay was signed in the offseason to be the WR1 the Giants have lacked since shipping off Odell Beckham Jr. Darius Slayton is entering his third season and continues to develop as a boundary receiver and deep threat. At just 5’ 11” and 190lbs, Toney’s future is likely as a slot receiver, but that’s a role Sterling Shepard already capably fills, not to mention the fact that versatile tight end Evan Engram lined up there more than 30% of the time last season as well. Finally, there is the running back position where Saquan Barkley will return from a torn ACL he suffered just two weeks into the 2020 season. So far his recovery is on track and he is expected to be a full go by training camp so he presents another obstacle to touches as one of the league’s premier three-down backs, with over 200 targets and 140 receptions across his 31 career games.
Despite where he was selected, I project Toney’s year one usage to look similar to the sort of early-career role Curtis Samuel played in Carolina. Tony will earn touches here and there because of his big-play ability, but there will still be a bit of a learning curve as he continues to develop as a wide receiver. The challenge will be the added pressure that comes with his draft pedigree, not to mention the New York media circus. As it currently stands, he’s at best the fourth or fifth option in the Giants passing attack so it’s hard to imagine he can be fantasy viable unless the Giants lose one or more of their proven pass catchers for a significant period of time.
Toney profiles as a player with the ability to develop into an every-down receiver with more experience so assuming that happens, his role in the offense should grow over time. The Giants could also speed up that clock by shaking up the receiver room as early as next season. Darius Slayton would enter the fourth and final year of his rookie contract in 2022 and Evan Engram is already playing 2021 under the club’s fifth-year option and becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. Additionally, if the Giants see enough from Toney to think he’s capable of handling a full-time role in the slot in year two, they can cut Sterling Shepard, who turns 29 in February and save $6.5 million against the cap. That’s money they could certainly use as they likely need to sign Saquan Barkley and possibly Daniel Jones to long-term extensions next offseason.
Looking further down the road, even if Jones and the current coaching staff can’t get it done, Toney is the type of talent that should get a second chance with a new regime. Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett isn’t known for being particularly creative, but the most immediate obstacle to Toney’s success is likely the growth and development of Jones. He can be a valuable piece in high leverage spots if Jones can become more consistent. Otherwise, Toney runs the risk of becoming a big-play threat that sees an opportunity or two each week and either capitalizes or leaves you with a goose egg. To me, he’s an intriguing prospect and someone to target in the mid to late-second round or early third round of dynasty drafts. That said, temper any expectations concerning his immediate contributions because the makeup of the Giants roster simply doesn’t support a sizable first-year opportunity.
Kadarius Toney Pre-NFL Draft Profile
This article was written in two parts. The following was Kadarius Toney’s pre-NFL Draft Profile
Asking scouts and talent evaluators about Kadarius Toney’s pro prospects is a lot like asking a room full of investment bankers what they think about Bitcoin. You’ll get lots of opinions, but very little consensus. And for good reason. While Toney is clearly an elite athlete with big-play ability, through his first three seasons at Florida he struggled with injuries and an ill-defined role in the offense. While splitting time between wide receiver, running back, and even some wildcat, he consistently flashed as a playmaker. But it wasn’t until his senior season that Toney really broke out, logging 70 catches for 984 yards, and ten scores as the Gators’ top wideout, and adding 161 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
Before the 2020 season, Toney had logged just 97 offensive touches over the course of his 27 game college career (50 receptions and 47 carries) totaling 1025 yards and three scores. On a per touch basis, the numbers are impressive, but it’s unclear if the lack of production overall was a byproduct of the team’s broader offensive struggles, Toney’s inability to consistently carve out a role, his struggles to stay healthy, or perhaps a combination of all three. Regardless, the emergence of quarterback Kyle Trask and Florida’s pass-first attack last season led to increased opportunities for Toney as a senior and he certainly delivered. The result was a 2020 tape that could have some teams slotting him in as a late first or early second-round pick on their draft boards.
KADARIUS TONEY. TOO SHIFTY ⚡ #SCtop10 pic.twitter.com/xgapjY84TJ
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) November 1, 2020
- Height: 5’11”
- Weight: 189 lbs
- Age: 22
An absolute home run threat any time he touches the ball, Toney combines elite straight-line speed with plenty of wiggle and lateral quickness, making him a nightmare to tackle in the open field. His development as a receiver last season was encouraging, as despite being asked to run a fairly simple route tree, he showed promise in creating separation and improved technique setting up deep patterns. His athleticism suggests he can continue to develop as a route runner, and while he lacks the ideal size to play outside he has the speed to excel as a field-stretching presence. He’s a hands catcher and displays a nice knack for tracking and timing the football, rarely allowing passes to get on top of him and showing enough patience to keep from tipping off defensive backs when the ball is in the air. Toney also can contribute immediately on special teams after taking over as the Gators primary return man last season where he posted a 22.1 yard average on kickoff returns and an impressive 12.6 yards per punt along with a touchdown.
Despite playing in a Florida offense that threw the ball more than 57.3% of the time (8th highest in the nation), much of Toney’s production was manufactured by getting him the ball in space via bubble screens and short crossing routes that forced defenders to try to corral him in the open field. Although many NFL offensive coordinators have embraced the idea of getting creative in the way they get the ball into the hands of their playmakers, a more fully developed route tree is still the key to consistent snaps at the next level, and Toney still has work to do in that respect. Additionally, that modified route package also meant Toney was rarely forced into contested-catch situations and that combined with his poor production as a blocker does raise some questions about his physicality. It’s not impossible to think that he can improve both aspects of his game, but it remains a question. Like many players with Toney’s explosive profile, at times he has a little too much confidence in his ability to turn every touch into a big play, deviating from play design and leaving yards on the field. When a player’s biggest strength can also lead to a glaring weakness, it’s hard not to view it as at least mildly concerning. Finally, while Toney did stay healthy for all of 2020, it’s important to note that he played in just eight games as a freshman and only seven as a junior, missing long stretches of both with injuries, something teams will likely take into account given his play-style.
Kadarius Toney is an intriguing prospect, but the temptation is to get sucked in by the 2020 production and the video game-like highlights. While his explosive playmaking ability is undeniable, the reality is that he still profiles as a somewhat unpolished and inexperienced slot receiver that needs some time to develop. As with any player, the landing spot for Toney will be the key to both his short and long-term fantasy viability. He’s the type of talent that could thrive under a creative offensive coordinator willing to leverage his strengths, but who will likely struggle early on if he’s slotted into a traditional slot receiver role.
The biggest fear with Toney is that he might run a forty-time that NFL teams find hard to ignore. Though talented, he’s still a bit of a work in progress with just one full season under his belt as an every-down receiver. An eye-popping combine could see his draft stock climb higher than it should, setting him up for expectations that he’s unlikely to reach in the first year or two of his NFL career. If that happens, he’s a stay away for me in redraft formats and likely becomes prohibitively expensive in dynasty drafts as well.
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Warren has been playing fantasy football in any number of formats for over 20 years, sometimes much to the chagrin of his wife and daughters. For better or worse, ahead of the 2014 NFL season, he began sharing his opinions and analysis through writing and eventually added yammering away on podcasts with anyone foolish enough to let him in front of a microphone. He is a long-suffering Jets fan, well-documented Paxton Lynch hater, and an admitted grammar snob.