The possibilities for how Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Kadarius Toney’s season could play out include a fairly wide range of outcomes.
Since being traded from the New York Giants back in October, the raw talent which made Toney a first-round draft choice just over a year ago has flashed multiple times. There have been moments where he looked like the team’s most dynamic receiving option not named Travis Kelce.
But after suffering a hamstring injury during November, Toney has returned from his multi-game absence — and his offensive snap counts have risen steadily in the three games since then.
Let’s take a look.
Against the Broncos, a lot of the ways Toney was used in the offense looked similar to prior weeks. But there were some noticeably different alignments and assignments that should be a factor when the playoffs begin.
Looking into Toney's growing role.— Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_) January 4, 2023
Remember this look. At some point in the playoffs, KC is gaining a key first down off of it. pic.twitter.com/L3ilQzMRJV
Here we see Toney deep in the offensive backfield within a full-house formation. The formation is not new to head coach Andy Reid’s teams; it is used every season. The play isn’t fresh, either. But using Toney in it is new — and ironically, he is placed in the same spot where former Chiefs wideout Tyreek Hill once was.
In the postseason, there will come a time — likely a third or fourth-and-1 scenario — when Kansas City will once again call this play. It might even happen multiple times. When it does happen, don’t be surprised to see Mahomes pitch the ball to Toney for what could be a season-altering result.
Toney might be the curveball of the entire AFC playoff landscape, the skill is there.— Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_) January 4, 2023
What the snap count looks like a couple weeks from now is the ? pic.twitter.com/zpUtk2PomC
But Toney isn’t just a gimmicky player who can only be used in a gadget role. He has shown on more than one occasion that he can adjust to downfield throws very well — perhaps better than any wide receiver on the roster. He looks very natural — and provides quarterback Patrick Mahomes with room for error that he doesn’t have with every other receiver.
This one speaks to a couple things.— Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_) January 4, 2023
1) The influence Kelce has on defenders (see #31 Simmons)
2) Toney's football smarts to take the appropriate path on this route, which Reid, Mahomes, Kelce have all spoke on prior pic.twitter.com/JYyp760XZy
Learning the playbook is not an issue for Toney. The Chiefs have repeatedly said they have been amazed by his ability to process information and learn during his first couple of weeks on the team. Right now, the likely reason for his reduced role is the ramp-up period that he’s been going through as he returns from his hamstring injury. Especially with wide receiver Mecole Hardman’s health still in question, the coaching and medical staffs have to do all they can to ensure Toney is available for the postseason.
This is defended really well by DEN -- edge forces cutback playing thru Gray, 22 adequately fills. But KC is fortunately still able to gain 3 yds bc of Toney's decisiveness and forward fall. pic.twitter.com/gJ73XeCVfh— Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_) January 4, 2023
In the event Toney’s offensive role doesn’t increase, one thing remains clear: Kansas City has a package of plays for him that are especially helpful in the red zone; it’s similar to how the team has previously used Hardman. Still, it was obvious that on Sunday, Denver had a great feel for how to defend certain plays. Fans get understandably frustrated when the offense stalls — as it did on those snaps.
Last target to KT - they clearly love him as a RZ threat, even if the snap count doesn't grow.— Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_) January 4, 2023
Also so many plays like this where DEN was 1) playing very hard & 2) seemed to have great feel for what was coming
These late div. games are tough when trying to preserve ahead of POs pic.twitter.com/s1L05hjO1L
Divisional games magnify this issue. Teams like Denver or Kansas City’s upcoming opponent — the Las Vegas Raiders — have played against Kansas City’s offense more than any other teams. There are moments in these matchups when the opposing defense knows exactly what the Chiefs' offense is about to do. From there, Kansas City simply has to focus on execution.
The bottom line
It still feels a bit weird to discuss these playoff-related topics as the world more positive reports about Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin — and the NFL decides how the postseason will ultimately look.
In the meantime, all the Chiefs can do is control what they can control. When the dust settles, though, there’s one AFC player who is ready to change how things shake out: Kadarius Toney.