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Kadarius Toney Film Review: What Does the New WR Bring to KC?

Kadarius Toney did something only four NFL rookies have ever done. He has also played in just 12 of 24 games. Which side wins out?

It’s a bit fitting that in the first interview Kadarius Toney gave as a member of the New York Giants, he expressed how thankful he was that the organization “took the risk” and granted him an opportunity in the NFL. Following a 24-game partnership — a few of which showcased Toney’s tantalizing athleticism — the Giants elected to pass that risk on to the Kansas City Chiefs.

The move itself costs the Chiefs a third-round and a sixth-round draft pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. Should Toney remain in good health after missing 12 of his first 24 possible games, it shouldn’t take long for the high-powered Kansas City offense to begin seeing returns on that investment.

It seems likely that every Chiefs fan with a stable internet connection has found their way to highlight reels including Toney's sizzling, frying, and fileting of the Dallas Cowboys’ No. 7-ranked defense to the tune of a 10-catch, 189-yard game in just the second start of his professional career.

In that game, Toney became just the fifth player in NFL history to accrue a 10-catch game with at least 185 yards. That one game also accounts for 45 percent of his career yards (420). To this point, Toney has been something of an NFL one-hit-wonder. Within the Chiefs’ vision, how well-positioned are Toney and the Chiefs to knock this trade out of the park?

Toney’s on-field ability is evident. The former first-round pick has the shiftiness to juke his way through a car wash without getting wet. The advanced metrics support that notion.

In 2021, Toney’s 66.7 percent juke rate ranked No. 1 in the NFL, per Player Profiler. That number, generally speaking, fits well with this iteration of Patrick Mahomes. Against the Saints, Toney nearly juked the entire city of New Orleans during his six-catch, 78-yard game in the prequel to that highlight-creating Cowboys matchup.

By any measurement possible, Toney’s athleticism jumps off of the charts. He pairs a 4.39-second 40-yard dash time with a 99 Next Gen Stats athleticism score. Toney and a young man by the name of Ja’Marr Chase were the only players to earn a 99 in the 2021 NFL Draft class, making the Chiefs’ potential usage of him very interesting.

Toney had just a 5.9 aDOT (average depth of target) on throws during that rookie season, signifying a lack of deep-throw usage despite proven success getting off with releases against tight, press-man coverage. Kansas City likely leads the NFL in “take the top off of a defense” receivers at this juncture, but adding a player of Toney's versatility does nothing but help in that regard.

The entire situation regarding Toney’s usage and vibe with the Giants remains somewhat unanswered. Though, based on how two different coaching staffs utilized him, it’s clear that both preferred to use him as more of a yards-after-catch chain-mover and, early in his career, a Mecole Hardman-type role with jet sweeps, simple screens and flares out of the backfield.

Toney flashed his ball-tracking ability in that 189-yard game, but outside of that, successful deep reps became more difficult to come by.

NFL Next Gen Stats route chart for Kadarius Toney in his 10-reception, 189-yard game against the Dallas Cowboys in 2021. Graphic by NFL Next Gen Stats.

If nothing else, the Toney trade ratchets the Chiefs’ offensive versatility up two more notches. There’s interchangeability, especially with JuJu Smith-Schuster proving demonstrably comfortable as an outside receiver, torching defenders with back-shoulder snags and an expanded route tree.

When he’s healthy and ready, that could free Toney up for opportunities in the slot, where he ran 45 percent of his routes last year, using his speed on a two-way-go. Toney ranked No. 17 in yards per route run in 2021, had a 32.5 percent target rate vs. man-to-man (No. 5 in the NFL), and created separation vs. man at the No. 12-best rate.

In the more immediate future, it’s worth wondering what Toney’s contributions will look like. Yahoo Sports fantasy football analyst Scott Pianowski compared it to that of a Polaroid picture, in that it might take "a week or two" before we see the full picture of what to expect. This feels like a wise assessment. As a receiver, Toney’s true breakout traits might not showcase themselves until December.

However, Toney's role may not need to develop on special teams. Given the struggles we’ve seen from fellow talented young wideout Skyy Moore with fielding punts, Toney could have the opportunity to emphasize those open-field traits as a returner, as he did in certain situations at the University of Florida.

Right away, it wouldn't be surprising to see the Chiefs to involve Toney in trick plays. Toney isn’t far removed from his time as a celebrated high school quarterback in Alabama, and surely by now, you know where this is headed: with better resources and play-callers, there presents the opportunity to turn a play like an innocuous screen pass into some Andy Reid trickery.

Of course, the schematic possibilities and high-level athleticism won't matter much if Toney’s hamstrings remain tricky, something that could be a cause for long-term concern when paired with his awkward cutting style. He also received some rumblings as a difficult off-field fit with the Giants, who ultimately sent him to KC without ever truly unlocking his potential.

Though, as we say with just about any player entering Andy Reid’s locker room, the premise remains the same: there’s no better place to be. Alongside a Hall of Fame head coach, one of the NFL's top superstars at quarterback and a bevy of pass-catchers capable of taking attention off of him, the talented Toney may never be better equipped to prove that his high-risk NFL career is ready for a return of high rewards.