It's almost funny at this point to watch Gators senior receiver Kadarius Toney play football.
From his video-game-like movements to his ability to accelerate and decelerate on a dime, Toney has become one of the most electric players in football when he gets the ball in his hands. While he hasn't always had the opportunities in the past, it appears this season might be different - he's a complete receiver, now.
While that is a strong statement to make following just one game, it has been something parroted by Gators head coach Dan Mullen throughout the offseason, and it came to fruition yesterday against the Ole Miss Rebels in the Gators' 51-35 victory, that wasn't ever really close after halftime.
“I think one of the things we talked to him a bunch about was every time you get the ball, it’s okay to get vertical and get four or five yards," Gators coach Dan Mullen said yesterday in postgame. "You don’t have to run around 70 yards to get those 4 yards. Just drop pads and get vertical."
That's exactly what Toney did yesterday when he took the handoff from quarterback Kyle Trask and proceeded to march 50 yards downfield, of course, breaking multiple tackles along the way. Continuing to find a way to get vertical creates complications for an opposing defense. Without having the time to break free of blocks and flow to the ball carrier, players will need to attack Toney in open space - good luck.
According to Pro Football Focus, Toney has touched the football 27 times since 2019, and has broken a staggering 21 tackles - almost unheard of. But, it isn't just about Toney's joystick moves that he makes routinely on Saturdays. Yesterday was one of the first times we have seen his new-look route-running ability, and it was a doozy.
On one play, the senior receiver performed a reverse-whip route to the middle of the field that almost no one would be able to defend. That's part of what Mullen has talked about this offseason when addressing how much his veteran receiver has grown as a receiver. Not just a gadget player.
"Now you see that what’s developed into, being an every-down player, his route-running ability, his blocking," Mullen said. "Obviously, he’s exciting when we put the ball in his hands. But you just see the every-down capabilities that he has a playmaker."
Every-down capabilities. That's the most important aspect of Toney's game this year. While, yes, the Gators do have other playmakers in tight end Kyle Pitts and receivers Trevon Grimes and Jacob Copeland, but having that x-factor, a player that can score from any position on the gridiron is perfect.
"Where do you want to focus? If you want to focus on one guy, we’re going to get it to the other guy. I think they said we had 11 different receivers had catches today. We’re going to take what you give us. Whatever great matchup you give us, we’re going to go take advantage of it.”
Toney didn't only contribute on the ground yesterday. He was the team's primary return specialist, and added plenty at the receiver position, catching five passes for 59 yards and a touchdown on the day, becoming something quarterback Kyle Trask feels is important to have within the offense, a veteran playmaker.
“I mean, he made big blocks, he had a great run, great catches," Trask said in postgame. "He was just very locked in and he’s an older guy, a veteran and he knows what to do. Works really hard and it paid today.”
The Gators will continue to feature its playmakers, particularly Toney, who appears to have evolved, absolutely.