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Film Review: Kadarius Toney adds elite traits to the offense

What can Kansas City expect from the former first-round draft pick?

Carolina Panthers v New York Giants Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

In a move that almost nobody predicted, the Kansas City Chiefs have acquired wide receiver Kadarius Toney in a trade with New York Giants. To get him, the Chiefs gave up the compensatory third-round pick they acquired from Ryan Poles being hired by the Chicago Bears — along with a sixth-round pick.

The Giants selected Toney — a 23-year-old wide receiver from Florida — in the first round (20th overall) of the 2021 NFL Draft. When he’s been on the field, he’s had some production — including a two-game stretch where he had 22 targets for 19 catches and 267 yards.

Yet the Giants were willing to move on. Toney hasn’t been healthy this year, appearing in only two games this season. He has dealt with some medical problems for both of his seasons with the Giants, including a minor arthroscopic knee surgery this year.

So what made the Chiefs want Toney? If you look at his film, it doesn’t take long to see his potential upside in Kansas City — once he gets healthy, that is.

Rare agility

For me, what made Tyreek Hill such an all-time athlete to watch wasn’t his incredible long speed, but how he could control his speed and tempo at such a high level. Hill could accelerate or decelerate at pretty much any speed, which kept defenders from making any sudden movements while trying to defend him. That type of athleticism — to change speeds going any direction — is a rare trait.

But Toney is one of the athletes who has been blessed with this gift. Going back to his days at Florida, what made Toney such an intriguing prospect was his agility as a wide receiver. While I wasn’t as high on Toney as many others were, I agreed that Toney had some rare movement skills.

This route against the Dallas Cowboys stands out. Toney takes a delayed release, which allows him to find an open zone window. Once he sees the strong-side safety coming downhill to play the middle hole, he snaps his hips the opposite way — but doesn’t lose any speed. Daniel Jones hits him in tight traffic, but that’s not all. Toney is able to instantly turn between multiple defenders to find open grass. Finally, he splits the two deep defenders, generating more yards-after-catch by fitting into that tight space.

The rare athletes with Toney’s gift are able to control their speed and tempo in just this way. You can’t leave him any extra space, because he will find it — and create plays from it. For years, we saw Hill create extra yards in this same way. Toney brings that ability back to the Kansas City offense.

Beating press coverage

Toney’s a small receiver, but that doesn’t mean he can’t beat press coverage. This route against All-Pro cornerback Trevon Diggs is outstanding.

Toney takes an inside release, using a two-hand swipe to stack (to get above) Diggs. Once he does that, Toney fakes a deep over, which gets Diggs sprinting to take away that throwing window. But this route is going to turn into a deep out, so Toney turns his eyes back to the ball. Then in one fluid motion, he flips his hips the other way. When Toney turns his eyes back to the ball, Diggs is ready for the pass — but the quick hip turn leaves Diggs out of position.

Toney didn’t face a lot of press coverage in college, but his short-area quickness terrifies press cornerbacks. Against Cover 1, cornerbacks can’t lose on the inside. But as we saw in this play, Toney can attack that leverage to turn his route into a deep out. While this is just one route, this type of agility and explosiveness makes him a weapon to defeat press coverage.

Making plays on the vertical plane

My biggest criticism of Toney’s college tape was that I didn’t like his ability to run vertical routes. While he wasn’t bad at it, I thought his vertical skillset was overrated. Toney doesn’t have a second or third gear to get an extra step on defenders, which limits his downfield utility.

But in limited samples in 2021, he was still able to create some downfield receptions. While he doesn’t have that extra gear, he’s still able to use his quickness to win between 10 and 20 yards. Because of his ability to run in any direction, defenders will give him a cushion. He has shown an ability to track the ball — even going up to pluck one out of the air.

As a deep threat, Toney won’t win often — but he is enough of one to complement his skill as an underneath route runner. Considering he’ll now playing with Patrick Mahomes, I think we’ll see him begin to produce vertically more often.

The bottom line

As he was coming out, I wasn’t very high on Toney. I saw his talent, but I evaluated him as a third or fourth-round talent. I felt he was overdrafted; I didn’t see him as a first-round weapon. So when we learned he had been traded for a third-round pick, it made sense to me; this is where I had valued him.

Toney does have rare movement skills. While he doesn’t have elite long speed, his short-area quickness rivals almost any receiver I’ve ever watched. This makes him very difficult for underneath defenders to cover.

After watching some tape, I see the Chiefs’ vision. Getting him some manufactured touches will be fun, but I feel Toney’s best value in Kansas City will be as a route runner. When healthy, he will instantly become the best separator — and definitely the best athlete — among the team’s wide receivers.

While the compensation is a lot, I think it’s worth the gamble. Toney has some rare traits — and for a guy on his rookie deal, I’m willing to gamble on them. Getting him healthy and integrated into this offense is important — but if he hits, he’s going to look awesome playing in head coach Andy Reid’s offense.

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