Heading into the Kansas City Chiefs’ season, I’m continuing my “10 Biggest Questions” series about the team. So far, we’ve covered five questions:
- What is the Chiefs’ contingency plan at offensive tackle?
- Will Deneric Prince or Clyde Edwards-Helaire crack the running back rotation?
- How far along are George Karlaftis and Felix Anudike-Uzomah as pass rushers?
- Do the Chiefs need to add another defensive tackle?
- Can Joshua Williams or Jaylen Watson expand their roles?
Today, we turn our attention to a player with the most potential variance in his 2023 season: wide receiver Kadarius Toney.
How much of an offensive load can Kadarius Toney carry?
Last season, Kansas City general manager Brett Veach made a trade-deadline swap to acquire the wideout from the New York Giants.
It was an unusual deal. It’s rare for a former first-round pick (who isn’t a bust) to be traded away just one season later. But last offseason, the Giants replaced their entire football brain trust. The new staff wasn’t enamored with the former Florida speedster, so they were looking to move him almost instantly. Veach revealed that the Chiefs had tried to trade for him during the 2022 offseason, but couldn’t get the deal done until October.
Toney gave the Kansas City offense the energy boost it needed during its championship run. While Toney’s primary stats wouldn’t blow anyone away, his per-snap production was absurd. Including the playoffs, Toney played just 139 snaps — but had a touch on 33 of them. That’s a whopping 23.7% of his reps.
Head coach Andy Reid found many different ways to get the ball to Toney. Those included putting him in the backfield, in motion or in any wide receiver alignment. Toney was also critical to the Chiefs' red-zone packages, where his ability to be a threat from anywhere resurrected many plays that had disappeared when wideout Tyreek Hill was traded to the Miami Dolphins.
POV: You're 59/37— Nate Christensen (@natech32) January 10, 2023
Alright boys, let's make it up next play, let's see what we got
Wait, is that Toney in backfield? Oh shoot, they ran a wheel route last week! Hey look he's releasing for a swing
Wait, he's running IZ away from me? And the RB is lead-blocking?
Must suck https://t.co/umwZHQoslK pic.twitter.com/LnVGUEBQtJ
Acquiring Toney wasn’t done simply to help the 2022 squad. It was also a long-term move. As a 2021 first-round pick, he still has up to three years left on his rookie contract. Now that he’s been with the team for an offseason, he’s bound to be more comfortable in the offense — and could expand his role beyond the plays Reid designed to get him on the field.
But what would that look like?
Earlier this offseason, I wrote about what an expanded role for Toney could include — but truthfully, there are unlimited ways in which Kansas City could unlock him in its offense. In college, Toney was used like a traditional slot receiver, getting a steady diet of targets over the middle of the field. Florida also used Toney’s marionette doll movement patterns to have him make game-breaking cuts all across the field, which put defenders in conflict on almost every snap.
In New York, the Giants were willing to put Toney on the boundary and have him try to beat press coverage. While the Chiefs didn’t ask Toney to do this very often, he could add more of that to his game in Kansas City. He could also see more opportunities from the backfield, where the Chiefs can match him up against linebackers and defensive linemen who have dropped into coverage.
So finding a role for Toney won’t be difficult. The bigger question is whether he can stay healthy enough to see an increase in both snaps and targets.
Toney’s had injury problems ever since his college days. During the last year’s offseason, he had minor arthroscopic knee surgery and also dealt with hamstring, quad and oblique injuries. So far in his NFL career, he’s missed 15 of 34 games — and had to leave the AFC Championship with an ankle injury that also limited him in Super Bowl LVII.
While Toney had other issues with the Giants, these injury problems were the main reason he was traded. So in Kansas City, the team has very carefully avoided taxing him physically. He has still, however, dealt with multiple injuries — including a lingering hamstring injury that kept him out of games.
Even so, the Chiefs have repeatedly said they view him as their No. 1 receiver. With a full offseason in Kansas City, the team is hoping he can get more touches. Toney absolutely has the talent for that, but how much more can the Chiefs put on him? Can he stay healthy through a full season — including the playoffs?
Now without JuJu Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman, Kansas City needs as many wide receivers as possible — and Toney is the team’s most-talented option. But if the Chiefs must continue to manage his use, this will put an additional burden on wideouts like Skyy Moore and Marquez Valdes-Scantling — and others — who might have to step into roles that don’t match their abilities.
The good news is that whether Toney is on the field or not, the Kansas City offense will still be elite through most of the regular season. But for me, the ceiling of the Chiefs’ postseason offense will be determined by whether Toney is fully incorporated into the scheme — and that will depend upon his health. Against the league’s top defenses, Kansas City will surely need his skill in separating from defenders and gaining yards after the catch.
Toney is such an electric player that he’s a joy to watch — but in 2023, the Chiefs are putting a lot on his shoulders. Now it’s up to him to prove them right. This season, it will be fascinating to see what the team does to get him all the way over the finish line.