After trading down from No. 11 to No. 20 in the 2021 NFL Draft, a surprising and uncharacteristic move for the New York Giants, they made another surprising move. Rather than an edge rusher, offensive lineman or cornerback, they used that 20th overall pick on wide receiver Kadarius Toney?
Why did the Giants do that?
To finish the job they started in free agency, that’s why. What job is that? Improving the play-making weaponry around third-year quarterback Daniel Jones in an effort to add juice to an offense that ranked 31st in the NFL a season ago.
“One of the off-season goals was to add weapons on offense and Kadarius, certainly he’s a good-size kid. He’s strong. He can run. He catches the ball well and he’s a very tough kid and he’s got return skills,” GM Dave Gettleman said in a post-Round 1 videoconference. “So we were thrilled that he was there for us at that spot.”
Since the end of the 2020 season, the Giants have now added premier free agent Kenny Golladay, speedy John Ross and the electrifying Toney to their wide receiver mix. They added tight end Kyle Rudolph, a veteran who should help them as both a pass catcher and blocker. They added running back Devontae Booker to replace Wayne Gallman, who signed with the San Francisco 49ers as a free agent.
Many thought the Giants had zeroed in on Alabama wide receivers Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith, and that might be the case. Waddle went No. 6 the Miami Dolphins and the Philadelphia Eagles moved up from No. 12 to No. 10 to get in front of the Giants and select Smith, the Heisman Trophy winner.
The Giants then moved down to 20 and selected Toney, the 6-foot, 193-pound Florida speedster. That move made this January post seem prescient.
“We’re thrilled to have him. We’re thrilled to have Kadarius Toney, okay,” Gettleman said. “He is a big kid. He’s a good-sized kid who can fly. He’s got really good hands. He’s got great run-after-catch skills. We’re thrilled to have him.”
Will Toney be as good or better than Waddle or Smith? Will he be as good as Rashod Bateman, taken 27th by the Baltimore Ravens? Or players yet to be selected like Elijah Moore of Ole Miss, Terrace Marshall of LSU and Rondale Moore of Purdue?
There is no way to know until their careers play out for a while.
Toney said he brings “a lot of dynamic versatility” to the Giants. He can line up as a receiver, in the backfield, run the ball and also return punts and kickoffs. A former high school quarterback, Toney remains unpolished as a receiver. He was listed by Florida simply as “ATHLETE,” and during a videoconference with New York media Thursday night agreed that he is far from a finished product.
“I’m really just embarking on my journey of really playing receiver – like my third-and-a-half year really just grasping receiver, so I feel like I’ve got a lot to really learn and a lot to grasp,” Toney said. “I feel like I’m in the right position, the right system and the right organization to really learn and grasp a lot of things early.”
In its draft guide, here is how Pro Football Focus described Toney:
It’s players like Toney who make football the greatest game in the world. The way he stops and starts in the blink of an eye is truly amazing to watch. He has the kind of flexibility and explosiveness in his lower half that allows him to break tackles in ways I’ve truly never seen before. It’s why he broke 32 tackles on only 80 catches the past two seasons. More of a gadget player early in his career, Toney finally looked like a true receiver in 2020. He’s not a polished route-runner by any means, but he showed all the ability needed to separate consistently in the NFL.
Here is Giants Director of College Scouting Chris Pettit on Toney:
“He’s a playmaker. He’s instinctive, he’s tough, makes a lot of plays with the ball in his hands. We feel he has flex inside and out. He also has value as a returner for us. Like I said, this is an instinctive, tough guy with very good athletic ability and speed.”
What about Toney’s off-the-field concerns?
Toney was suspended prior to Florida’s 2018 season opener for “not living up to the Gator standard.” He was also stopped by Florida police that year and found to be in possession of an AR-15 rifle. He was not arrested. Finally, Toney has an interest outside of football as he raps under the name “Yung Joka.”
Head coach Joe Judge admitted Thursday night that he is “pretty particular about who I bring into this building,” and seemed satisfied with the work the Giants had done before selecting Toney.
“We fully vetted every player on this board. We are very comfortable bringing him to New Jersey. We are very comfortable adding him to our roster to compete with other players on the team,” Judge said. “Listen, we use every resource we have, okay, Jeremy Pruitt who is in our building, Jeremy recruited him out of high school. So we have people in this building with established relationships who have known this guy through the course of not only being in college, but going back to when they were in high school developing as a player.We have numerous coaches that spent a long time recruiting, have had this guy in summer camps for multiple days at a time and had extended exposure to him. We had guys at the pro day. We had Zoom meetings that were allotted by the league; we used those, phone calls.
“I think sometimes you have to understand the person, and you have to understand the character on a deeper level than what just may be Tweeted out.”
The Giants have made a habit over the years of falling in love with players at the Senior Bowl. Toney appears to be the latest.
“We got to spend a lot of time with him. Really great to meet him and get that face-to-face at that point in the scouting process and then watch him throughout the rest of the spring throughout the Zooms, more and more time, really get to know him and get to know the person and feel really good about him,” Director of College Scouting Chris Pettit said.
“We were all tired, that process down there was pretty strenuous of going back-to-back to back of these long interviews which was great. But it was late in the night and we were tired. We were talking through plexiglass and everyone had masks on, and he brought energy at that point. We love that. He brought energy to the room, to the conversation. Was easy to talk to. Was open and honest and we loved everything about that conversation.”
They loved him enough that Toney is your newest New York Giant.