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Examining Kadarius Toney’s usage with the Chiefs this season

The young Kansas City wideout’s playing time has been much lower than expected in 2023.

NFL: Frankfurt Games-Miami Dolphins at Kansas City Chiefs Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

The main concern about the Kansas City Chiefs this season has been the productivity of their wide receiver corps. One of the players under the most scrutiny has been wide receiver Kadarius Toney, upon whom there were high expectations for 2023.

In the spring, general manager Brett Veach declared that Toney was talented enough to be the team’s No. 1 wideout. But his season got off to a poor start: literally five minutes into training camp, Toney suffered a partially torn meniscus in his knee — an injury that required surgery.

Toney missed all of training camp, returning for the Week 1 game against the Detroit Lions. Since then, his usage (and production) have been sporadic. On Monday, head coach Andy Reid confirmed that since his knee injury, the team has been managing his use.

“I just want to remind everybody that he did have that knee surgery,” Reid told reporters, “so we’re taking it easy with him up to this point. [We’re] just making sure he can make it through the year in good health.”

Kadarius Toney’s snap count and usage

Kansas City worked toward a wide receiver-by-committee approach through the first eight weeks of the season — but against the Miami Dolphins in Frankfurt, it appeared that the team was beginning to move away from that plan. After peaking at 42% against the Denver Broncos in Week 6, Toney’s offensive usage was at 20% (or below) for three consecutive weeks; he had just seven snaps in Germany.

“We can play him more than that and still be okay,” said Reid on Monday. “We just keep an eye on his leg and make sure that we’re repping that out the right way. [We’ll] let him keep progressing as we go here throughout the year — that’s the important part.”

Still, only Justyn Ross — who has been on the commissioner’s exempt list for the last two games — has had fewer snaps at wide receiver than Toney, who has been on the field for just 24% of 2023’s offensive snaps. Ross’ absence — and that of wideout Justin Watson in Week 7 for an elbow dislocation — wasn’t enough to get Toney more work. He has even had fewer snaps than recently re-acquired wideout Mecole Hardman, who returned to the team in Week 7.

Toney has also been an almost permanent fixture on the team’s injury report. He was listed there for the first two weeks of the season as he continued to recover from his knee surgery. In Weeks 3-7, he was on the report with a toe injury — and in Week 9, returned to the injury report with an ankle issue.

What could Toney’s role be for the rest of the season?

Kansas City Chiefs v Denver Broncos Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

To this point, Toney’s young NFL career has been riddled with injuries. While he hasn’t missed a game this year, he was out for 15 games during his first two seasons. When healthy — and with the ball in his hands — he shows immense potential; he is still one of the most electrifying players on the team’s roster. So it is understandable that the Chiefs are trying to manage his usage.

Before the season, I argued that with Toney’s training camp injury (and his history), he should be given a longer recovery time — that he should not be rushed back into the lineup for Week 1. While he was back for the season opener, he dropped two passes. This might have been an indication he had not had enough practice reps to be ready for his return. So his reduced role through the midpoint of the season could be intended to allow Toney to be fully acclimated into the offense.

It does not appear that Toney has aggravated his partially torn meniscus. Given the nature of the injury (and its surgery), he should be fully recovered from it. His recovery from this injury is the main reason Reid cited for Toney’s limited role — but it is concerning that he has been on and off the injury report for multiple issues.

With the wideout’s injury history, there will always be cause to worry about Toney. And while Reid is often coy with the media, we should still take his word that the Chiefs have a plan for him. In his opportunities, his talent and ability have been evident. If he is able to stay reasonably healthy — and even if he gets less use than we expected — he can make a difference in Kansas City’s offense.

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