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Kadarius Toney during OTAs.
Danielle Parhizkaran/NorthJersey.com / USA TODAY NETWORK

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Kadarius Toney: Breakout season coming for Giants’ second-year WR?

Toney is coming off confusing, less than satisfying, rookie year

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What should we make of Kadarius Toney? More importantly, what will the New York Giants get from the 2021 first-round pick after a rocky and sometimes difficult to figure out rookie season?

Will Toney be a breakout star in his second NFL season? Will he continue to be a tantalizing talent but a frustrating player who doesn’t — for whatever reason — consistently produce what his obvious ability and athleticism scream that he is capable of?

Let’s discuss Toney as we get closer to the end of our player-by-player profiles of the Giants’ 90-man roster.

By the numbers

Height: 6-foot
Weight: 193
Age: 23
Position: Wide receiver
Experience: 1
Contract: Year 2 of four-year, $13.719 million rookie contract [Fully guaranteed] | 2022 cap hit: $3.118 million

Career to date

Tantalizing. Curious. Disappointing. Frustrating. Puzzling. Baffling. Bewildering. Mystifying. Perplexing. Confusing. Convoluted. Confounding.

Pick your adjective for Toney’s rookie season in the NFL. All of the above feel like they fit. There are probably several others.

Toney has been a curiosity since the second he became a Giant. Dave Gettleman and Joe Judge chose to pass on two brilliant, difference-making players at positions of need — LB/edge Micah Parsons and offensive tackle Rashawn Slater — to trade down from No. 11 to No. 20 in the 2021 NFL Draft. That marked the first trade down Gettleman had made in nine drafts as an NFL GM.

The Giants selected Toney when there were several other viable options, including pass rushers and wide receivers, they could have selected.

Most any pre-draft scouting report about Toney mentioned character concerns and his injury history at Florida. Dane Brugler of The Athletic said in his draft guide that Toney’s “off-field and durability will be debated in war rooms.” At Pro Football Network, Tony Pauline wrote that “Character evaluations are big for the Florida wide receiver.”

Toney’s rookie season went sideways almost before it began. With a little help from NJ Advance Media, here is a timeline of Toney’s 2021 adventures:

May 14 (first day of rookie minicamp) — Toney fails to make it through the end of his first professional practice. He did part of the workout with just one cleat and said later he thought he was wearing the wrong size.

May 15 — Toney kept two cleats on but again did not make it to the end of practice. Coach Joe Judge said it was “not an injury situation.”

May 24 — Toney skips voluntary OTAs, apparently because he had not yet signed his contract. That is something rookies, who have automatic injury protection via the rookie participation agreement, rarely do.

June 8-10 — After signing his contract, Toney participates in mandatory minicamp. He did not make it through the first practice, slipping on the field and then leaving. He did make it through the next two days.

Training camp — Toney began training camp on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. He then missed nearly all of camp with a hamstring injury, and did not play in the preseason.

Sept. 16 — After getting only two touches (for -2 yards) in the first two games, Toney is seen pouting on the sidelines at the end of a loss to the Washington Football Team.

From NJ.com:

While the Giants were riding the train back to New Jersey from Maryland, Toney posted a message to his Instagram that said: “i don’t be mad, s—t just be lame to me.” NJ Advance Media reported at the time that Toney was unhappy.

The following morning, Toney tweeted: “y’all try to turn anything into something ... we good over here.”

Sept. 18 — Toney takes to social media again, calling media members “sum clowns.”

Sept. 24 — Toney apologized for the “clowns” comment. Sort of:

“I know a lot of people saw what I posted, like media wise, me saying the media this and that. That’s not meant for everybody,” Toney said. “The ones, they specifically know who I’m talking about because of the story that they want to make, want to create, stuff like that, they know exactly who I’m talking about. I apologize to the rest of you all who do a great job in what you all do. I’m going to leave it at that.”

Toney did say the incident taught him a lesson.

“I really learned that it’s really your job to create whatever you’re all going to create or out of whatever you all want it to be,” he said. “From my standpoint, I’m just going to go back to what I normally used to do and not post at all to give you nothing to really talk about.”

Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett was clear that Toney was going to have to earn his opportunities:

“Kadarius hasn’t played a lot of football for us, yet. He missed the spring. He missed most of training camp. He practiced about three days before the season started, so he’s a young player who’s learning.”

Oct. 10 — Toney has a fantastic, 10-catch, 189-yard performance against the Dallas Cowboys. He wrecks it by throwing a punch at a Cowboys defender in the fourth quarter and getting ejected.

Oct. 17 — After catching three passes for 36 yards on the opening drive vs. the Los Angeles Rams, Toney suffers an ankle injury. He leaves that game and misses the next one.

Nov. 3 — Toney takes to social media to support Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Henry Ruggs, who was charged with DUI resulting in death for his role in a fatal car crash.

Here is what Toney tweeted, and was heavily criticized for:

“We young…..everybody make mistakes….y’all lookin at the situation like “this or that” kuz it ain’t y’all…having so much too say....he know he messed up don’t drag em for it……that’s goofy to me….just pray for the families involved.”

Nov. 28 - Dec. 19 — Toney misses four games. First, his injury was called a quad contusion. Later, he was said to have an oblique injury. On Dec. 13, Toney was placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list for the second time.

Dec. 26 — Toney returns to the lineup, catching four passes against the Philadelphia Eagles. He suffers a shoulder injury in that game and does not play the final two weeks of the season.

Toney finishes the season with 39 catches for 420 yards while playing in only 10 games. At some point after the season ended, Toney undergoes minor knee surgery.

2022 outlook

Will this be a breakout year for Toney?

Chris Trapasso of CBS Sports thinks so:

Toney is a dazzling yards-after-the-catch play waiting to happen. He was barely fully healthy as a rookie yet managed a bulky 6.0 YAC per reception average, which tied for the eighth-highest figure among all qualifying receivers in football. That 6.0 YAC per reception figure was the same as Chris Godwin’s and Cooper Kupp’s, of course, at a much different volume.

Being dynamic with the ball in his hands is not new behavior from Toney. That was his trademark at Florida. He’s a freaky athletic specimen, too. And the Giants can’t be infected by the injury bug as badly as they were in 2021, so opposing defenses will have a fair share of legit talent to scheme to stop outside of Toney.

The former first-round pick will be viewed as one of the NFL’s most dynamic gadget-type weapons after his second season.

Pro Football Focus isn’t so sure:

It’s never a great sign when the team drafts a player that appears to be a natural replacement for someone who was drafted at the same position the year before, but that’s the reality facing Toney after the Giants selected Wan’Dale Robinson in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft.

Toney flashed unbelievable talent as a rookie but has struggled to stay on the field. Additionally, there has been quiet chatter about his attitude and dedication. Toney was always going to be a difficult player to mesh seamlessly with an NFL offense due to his unique talent and playing style, but now, he has to show he can do that and stave off the threat of another unusual athlete for a new regime in New York. Toney has incredible ability with the ball in his hands but is already under pressure entering Year 2.

Things certainly appear to set up well for Toney in Year 2. The offense head coach Brian Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka are installing appears to be one designed to move players around formations, to scheme touches, to get the ball out of the quarterback’s hands quickly and try to put pass catcher in advantageous catch-and-run situations.

That is why Wan’Dale Robinson appealed to the Giants in the draft. It is also the type of offense that absolutely suits Toney’s skillset.

Toney told the team’s official website that he is looking forward to being utilized in a number of ways.

“[The offense is] kind of like Florida in the way you have leeway in route-running and stuff like that,” the former Gator said. “You’re able to just win. You don’t have to run the pen-and-paper version of your route every time. A lot of offensive coaches have the pen-and-paper mentality like you have to run it exactly like that every time. But Dabes [Daboll] gives us a lot of freedom, a lot of leeway to win. That’s the object of playing football – to win. He just gives that option.”

A six-catch, 78-yard game against the New Orleans Saints and an incredible 10-catch, 189-yard receiving game against the Dallas Cowboys showed everyone just how electric Toney can be. Problem is, those two games accounted for more than half his 2021 receiving yardage and nearly half of his receptions.

If Toney is going to have the breakout year that appears to be there for him and that many anticipate, he is going to have to stay on the field. He is not only going to have to be available on game days, but he is going to have to practice more regularly than he did in 2021.

Discouragingly, Toney did not practice at all during the spring as he was recovering from minor knee surgery. A full training camp with daily reps could be critical for Toney, especially in a new offense with a new coaching staff.

The other factor is that there are still doubts about Toney’s maturity. Those dogged him in the pre-draft process, and then throughout his rookie season. Giants’ coaches were talking in the spring about Toney needing learn to be a pro and to gain trust of teammates and coaches. As the season ended in the dead of winter, they were still saying the same thing. The only way to take that is that Toney did not make much headway in gaining trust or becoming a pro throughout the season.

First-year head coach Brian Daboll said in the spring when Toney skipped the first phase of the team’s voluntary offseason program, that he had had “good talks” with him and that Toney had a “clean slate” entering the year.

“Every season is a new season. It was one season, I wasn’t here in terms of him being a rookie,” said first-year head coach Brian Daboll. “He’s doing everything we’re asking him to do. Glad he’s here.”

Is Toney more interested in being Yung Joka the rap star? Does he want to do what it takes to be a great player, and a great teammate? Will he be that breakout player? Will he be a guy who leaves everyone wanting more?

Only Toney can answer that question.

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