Giants’ Kadarius Toney far from NFL draft consolation prize: ‘Game-breaker’

Gone. Gone. Gone. Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith, the top three wide receivers, as graded by the Giants, were no longer available to them at No. 11 in the 2021 NFL Draft. They traded down Thursday and took the next one on their board, Kadarius Toney of Florida.

There was distance between 1, 2, 3 and Toney, but this was more crevice than ravine, in the eyes of the Giants.

“He was close enough,’’ Chris Pettit, the Giants’ director of college scouting, said. “I don’t know if there was a big separation, if I can say that, but he’s right up there and he was worthy of a first-round pick, so that shows you what we think of him.’’

There were other receivers available to the Giants at No. 20, players several scouts rated ahead of Toney. The selection could have been Rashod Bateman (Minnesota), Terrace Marshall (LSU), Rondale Moore (Purdue) or Elijah Moore (Mississippi). It is believed the Giants had Bateman ranked just behind Toney on the receiver board.

The Giants see Toney as an explosive and versatile offensive weapon, and one of their favorite players in the entire draft. They were not going to take him at No. 11 and believed he was not going to be there at No. 42, so the only way a forced marriage could be arranged was with a trade down. Now it is up to Jason Garrett, the offensive coordinator, to find a variety of roles to best utilize Toney’s change-of-direction skills.

Kadarius Toney
Kadarius Toney breaks away from the defense.
Collegiate Images via Getty Imag

If the Giants want someone to stick on the outside and run routes to the boundaries, Toney is not the guy. He is a get-the-ball-in-his-hands-and-watch-him-work type of target. The statistic that says the most about him is this: Toney forced 43 missed tackles in his career, giving him the highest percentage per catch of any Power 5 receiver in college football since 2014.

Quietly, the Giants are filling the stable for quarterback Daniel Jones. They signed Kenny Golladay as a 6-foot-4 pass-catching weapon. They have reliable Sterling Shepard in the slot. They have Darius Slayton, a blend of speed and size, capable of getting behind a defense. They added John Ross, a former first-round pick of the Bengals, taking a chance on his pure speed. They have Saquon Barkley, a gifted receiver out of the backfield, coming back after knee surgery. They still have tight end Evan Engram, who actually led the team in targets in 2020 with 109, a skilled but flawed (too many drops) pass-catcher who the Giants believe will benefit from having reduced pressure on him.

With Toney, they have … more than enough now.

“He’s tough as hell, he can play all three positions, his run after the catch is just ridiculous and he’s a game-breaker, a flat out game-breaker,’’ Louis Riddick, a former NFL player and personnel executive, currently an ESPN analyst, said prior to the draft. “I don’t want to throw around the Tyreek Hill comparisons too much, but whenever we watch No. 10 from the Kansas City Chiefs on Sundays everybody goes, ‘I want somebody that looks like that. I want a chess piece like that.’

“The kind of guys who are moveable guys like that who also are just flat-out home run hitters because they have blazing speed. I think the Giants could easily fit a guy like that into their plans, given the kind of people they have in Slayton and Golladay, who are more traditional outside lane, down-the-field winners. They could use another guy to go along with Sterling on the inside who is dynamic and very multiple. I think Daniel Jones would welcome that.’’

Toney put on a show at his Pro Day on March 31, running the 40 in 4.39, recording a vertical leap of 39 ¹/₂ inches and a standing broad jump of nearly 12 feet. He needed work on his hands and route-running, and this past season dropped only one pass.

“I still think his receiving skills are developing,’’ Florida coach Dan Mullen recently told reporters in Gainesville, Fla. “I still think he has a huge future. He’s just really scratching the surface right now.’’

The Gators lined Toney up on the perimeter, in the slot and in the backfield — he said he patterns some of his game after Saints running back Alvin Kamara — and he averaged 11.7 yards on 186 rushing attempts. As a former high school quarterback, he can also be used on gadget plays; he reputedly can throw it 80 yards.

“As much as Kyle Pitts was the transcendent player for the Florida Gators, as Dan Mullen almost went exclusively pass, Kadarius Toney was the guy that he just put him over in what we call ‘jerk routes,’ which is just get open in the middle of the field,’’ Rick Neuheisel, former NFL quarterback, college head coach and NFL coordinator said on SiriusXM NFL Radio. “And it was incredible how beautiful he ran them and [Florida quarterback Kyle] Trask benefited. And so, too, will Daniel Jones.”

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