May is perhaps my favorite month during the calendar year as a football writer.
Why? Because after months of speculation over the draft, landing spots, mock drafts and the rest, the time for speculation is over. We now know where various players landed and we can begin thinking about how they will fit into their new teams from a schematic perspective.
One of my favorite players this cycle to imagine in an NFL role just happened to find his way to the Big Apple. When Dave Gettleman traded down in the first round and then drafted shifty Florida wide receiver Kadarius Toney, he added to the New York Giants’ offense an explosive receiver who can be used in a variety of ways. Of course you all probably know how offensive coordinator Jason Garrett will look to manufacture touches for him, on designs like screens and jet sweeps, but having studied Toney — and Garrett’s history as a play-caller — here are some designs that I would fold into the playbook for Toney if I were in Garrett’s shoes.
One of the things that stood out to me about watching Toney is that for all the criticism he faces for being an “unpolished” route-runner, he has great feel for working across the field. So one design I would put into the playbook would cater to that strength, and assign Toney the “search” route over the middle. A few years ago Darrell Hazel gave a clinic presentation on Purdue University’s passing game titled “Wide Receiver Patterns and Concepts” and talked about their search route concept. During that presentation he said in part:
If you have a nifty guy who can work inside then you want to put him at the H-Back position. He is the “search” runner. His job is to go underneath the flat defender, which could be a nickel Sam linebacker, or a drop down safety depending on the coverage. his responsibility, and it is critical to the play, is to come underneath the first defender. At the snap he takes a slant releases inside his first defender. As soon as he gets to the inside of that defender, we want him to get his shoulders vertical. The Mike linebacker will open up but will have no idea where he will end up...He runs the route at 14 yards. At that point he takes the first window of opportunity that comes open. It truly is a search route in that once he gets to 14 yards, he is going to search for the first opportunity that opens up and he is going to take it.
On this design, we are going to put Toney in that “search” runner situation, and take advantage of his feel for working against underneath coverage. The design looks like this:
This is drawn up out of an 11 personnel package, with Toney aligned as the inside receiver to the trips look on the right. Daniel Jones has Kenny Golladay isolated on the left, who is running a vertical route. If he likes the matchup, he can take the deep shot as that route is his “alert,” but if not he works the concept to the right. Toney is running the “search” route working across the field, and once he finds the first “window of opportunity” he can sit down, or he simply runs away from the defender if the defense is using man coverage.
Why do we want this design for Toney? Because of what he does working across the field, and his feel for underneath coverage and finding space, or simply running away from man defenders:
This is one way to get Toney involved in the passing game, and a route concept that does cater to a current strength of his as a receiver.
HOSS Toney Juke
Another strength of Toney’s is his short-area quickness, and his ability to change directions on a dime. In case you need a refresher, here are two of my favorite plays from studying him:
Some change-of-direction stuff. Again, for...reasons. pic.twitter.com/biZrCwLGee— Mark Schofield (@MarkSchofield) May 11, 2021
So what do we do with this skill? Well, the first thing I would do would be to rip a page from the New England Patriots’ playbook, and steal their Hoss Juke design:
Astute readers might recognize this design as the play New England ran three-straight times in Super Bowl LIII, culminating in the long completion from Tom Brady to Rob Gronkowski on the seam route along the left side of the field. But Hoss Juke is a core design of New England’s offense, pairing a hitch route with a seam route to each side of the field. The design gives the quarterback a ton of options. If the defense is in single-high, the QB can work between the two inside seam routes, and in this case Daniel Jones can look that post safety to either Golladay on the left or Evan Engram on the right, and then throw off that defender’s movement.
If the defense is playing with soft coverage on the outside, or there is a linebacker over Saquon Barkley along the left sideline, Jones can attack with the hitch routes.
But the Juke route is the final piece to this puzzle, and was a reason Julian Edelman was the eventual MVP of that Super Bowl. Toney will run that route, which is an option route as indicated on the diagram. He starts again with a slant release but will read the coverage and break in response. Against zone coverage he can sit down in space. If an underneath defender “walls” him off, he can break back outside. Or if the defense tries to cover him man-to-man, he can simply accelerate across the field and run away from the man defender.
But as we close this out, let’s think outside the box for a bit.
Now is the portion of the proceedings where we have a little fun at our fearless leader’s expense.
When the great Ed Valentine approached me about writing this piece, he had a quick suggestion: “Here’s a crazy thought. Or, maybe not so crazy. Could the Giants’ third-down back be...Kadarius Toney?”
The more I thought about that, the more I thought there might just be something to that.
What I’m envisioning is a “21” personnel package that has Toney aligned in the backfield, often along with Barkley. The play that made me think this package was something to explore? This wheel route out of the backfield against LSU, that shows Toney making a tough adjustment in traffic to secure the completion:
A wheel route out of the backfield. Again...reasons pic.twitter.com/XbDDlb4Tk0— Mark Schofield (@MarkSchofield) May 11, 2021
So to that end, here are some designs I’ve dreamed up with this 21 personnel package, tying together the elements we’ve already discussed with the rest of the Giants’ personnel.
First up, is that wheel route:
On this play the offense pairs a flood concept on the right side of the field with a wheel/rub concept on the backside, with Toney running the wheel route out of the backfield. To the right Darius Slayton releases vertically with Engram running the deep out route. Barkley will release to the flat after scanning in pass protection. The core element is on the backside with the rub/wheel between Golladay and Toney. Jones will put this throw to Toney based on how the defender plays the rookie. If the defender tries to come underneath the rub created by Golladay, Jones will put air under this and lead Toney downfield. If, however, that defender plays this over the top of the curl from Golladay, Jones can turn this into a back-shoulder throw and let Toney make the adjustment.
The other design I would incorporate into this package is a weakside “HB Option” for Toney, catering to his change-of-direction skills:
On this play the frontside remains the same, but things change on the backside. Golladay runs a deep out, and Toney runs the weakside “HB option” element. He’ll release downfield and then run a route based on how the coverage plays him with a two-way go. He can sit against unmatched/zone coverage, break outside if the defender is using inside leverage, or break inside if the defender is using outside leverage. I’ve included the potential vertical release for advantageous matchups, or potentially a “zero blitz” situation if the middle of the field is simply wide open and Jones likes the matchup.
Now...will any of this happen?
Who knows. These are designs that I think could cater to what Toney does well, that can incorporate his explosiveness and short-area quickness into the Giants’ offense while he rounds out the rest of his game as a receiver. Whether Garrett slides these plays into the playbook remains to be season, but hopefully...he does.