Giants-Eagles Early Matchup to Watch: WR Kadarius Toney vs. Eagles Slot Corners

The Eagles' slot cornerback situation seems far from settled right now and that's something the Giants should be able to take advantage of with their slot receivers.
Publish date:

The Philadelphia Eagles jumped the Giants in the 2021 NFL Draft. The appeal of adding the 2020 Heisman Trophy-winning receiver was too much for Eagles’ general manager Howie Roseman.

Roseman wanted to add that talent to his roster after investing two pieces of draft capital into his wide receiver room, and neither has proven NFL-worthy quite yet (2020 Jalen Reagor and 2019 J.J. Arcega-Whiteside). Roseman saw an opportunity, with extra draft capital, to not have to deal with the headache of guarding DeVonta Smith twice a year.

This move allowed the Giants to trade back nine spots with the Chicago Bears, who selected Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields. New York continued to add explosive offensive playmakers by selecting Florida’s Kadarius Toney at pick 20.

The 6-0, 193-pound Toney adds a lot of excitement into an offense that already added Kenny Golladay, John Ross, Devontae Booker, Kyle Rudolph this off-season (with a returning Saquon Barkley as well).

Toney had 120 catches on 150 targets, with 12 touchdowns, for 1,583 receiving yards while at Florida. He only dropped three passes, albeit he struggled with drops at the Reese’s Senior Bowl. 2020 was his first full-time year as a wide receiver, and he caught 70 of 84 targets for 977 yards and ten touchdowns while rushing the ball 19 times for 161 yards and a score.

His film is littered with impressive, game-changing types of plays. One has to imagine that Toney, in the right system with the right play-caller, can be an interesting weapon that can flip a 2020 three-point loss into a 2021 win.

The Giants went from having one of the worst skilled-position groups in 2020 to one of the more loaded units; the 2021 newcomers are added to an offense that already consists of Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton, and Evan Engram.

Toney’s skills are far different than any other player on this roster. The offense should have designed touches for Toney, but he shouldn’t be limited to that bit role; his route running is more nuanced than advertised, but stop routes and quick curls aren't going to unlock the high potential that Toney currently offers.

Giants offensive coordinator Jason Garrett calls plays to pick up the first down rather than take more shots or get more skilled-position players into space to build routes off of each other to maximize yards after the catch.

Much like general manager Dave Gettleman not trading down in the draft until this year, we hope that Garrett can learn some new tricks because Toney needs an innovative play-caller to maximize his potential.

Can Freddie Kitchens, promoted to senior offensive assistant, and the addition of Russ Callaway help Garrett stray away from his conservative play leanings? It sure would be a shame if Garrett remains too conservative and cannot fully take advantage of all that Toney can bring to the offense.

Eagles Defensive Backfield

Opposite of Darius Slay, an above-average cornerback for the Eagles, the team lacks talent. Jim Schwartz and his Wide nine base defense is no longer in Philadelphia. Jonathan Gannon, the secondary coach in Indianapolis last season under Matt Eberflus, will assume the defensive coordinator role under head coach Nick Sirianni.

Eberflus ran predominantly a zone base, cover-2/6, and quarters, defense. There were many split safety looks, and they only employed man coverage on third and short situations. I expect Gannon to operate similarly with his current roster set up.

As noted above, there’s little talent behind Slay; Avonte Maddox, Craig James, and Lavert Hill were the names on the depth chart before the draft. The Eagles were reportedly very high on Giants' third-round selection Aaron Robinson but thought they could trade back from 70 to 73 to get him.

Instead, the Giants gave Philadelphia a little taste of their own medicine and traded up to 71 from 76 and selected Robinson. A video surfaced of Roseman fist-bumping scouts, and his college director of scouting appeared visibly upset at what transpired.

Philadelphia ended up selecting the athletic defensive lineman Milton Williams out of Louisiana Tech. Then they drafted their only cornerback, which was a top-two biggest need at a position that isn’t strong, in the fourth round (Zech McPhearson out of Texas Tech). Some viewed this selection as a panic move from the Eagles, who are still very weak on the back end of their defense.

The fact that the Giants added Robinson, a versatile player who can fill the STAR role, was an excellent way to ensure the Eagles don’t add depth while also allowing defensive coordinator Patrick Graham to call different coverages in the upcoming season.

The Giants had way too many snaps for players like Ryan Lewis and Isaac Yiadom, so this addition will create more competition and allow the cream to rise to the top.

K’Von Wallace

Darius Slay will be preoccupied outside with Kenny Golladay, which will allow Toney, Slayton, and Shepard the opportunity to take advantage of matchups that they, on paper, should win.

Wallace is a safety who played slot down the stretch of the season for the Eagles. He was drafted in the fourth round last year, and I liked his film--he's aggressiveness and versatility coming out of Clemson.

He struggled badly with his tackling last season and wasn’t much better in coverage. The Eagles ran just under half of their defensive snaps in man coverage, so a transition to zone may be better for a player like Wallace, who is a bit undisciplined and inpatient.

If Toney catches Wallace in man coverage and can use his double moveability, Wallace could find himself in trouble.

The Eagles' 2020 nickel back was Nickell Robey-Coleman. He played 416 slot snaps for the Eagles defense last season, and he is now a free agent. This leaves an uncertainty at the slot position for the Eagles. Wallace has the movement skills and fluidity to play that role, but is he developed enough not to be constantly attacked on Sundays?

Anthony Harris

Another player that could step down into the slot for the Eagles is their 2021 free agent signing from the Vikings Anthony Harris. Harris played 144 slot snaps for the Vikings last season; as one may recall, many Giants’ fans discussed adding Harris in the 2020 free agent cycle because of his range, but he ultimately was franchise tagged by the Vikings.

If the Eagles use those split high safety looks, then Harris may end up just taking the field side of those coverages (or strong side) because of his range.

However, if the Eagles can’t figure out their slot situation, one reason why they were so upset they missed out on Robinson, then I can see a world where Harris drops down into the short zones and attempts to match with players like Toney.

Harris is a good athlete, and he’s a long player with good instinct, but I believe Toney can exploit Harris’ high center of gravity up the route stem.

Toney also possesses great short-area quickness that is difficult to defend in the short to intermediate parts of the field. It would be a fun matchup to watch; Toney has exceptional contact balance and breaks many tackles, and Harris has never had a broken tackle percentage of 10%.

RELATED: Giants-Eagles Matchups to Watch: Eagles WR Devonta Smith vs. Giants Defensive Backs

Zech McPhearson

The Texas Tech product played 144 snaps in the slot in 2020, and maybe the long-term answer for the Eagles at that position. He was targeted 53 times, surrendering 36 catches, with four interceptions and 6 PBUs in 2020. He cleaned his tackling mechanics up in 2020 and put himself into a more draftable position.

Toney should win this matchup against this 5’11", 195-pound defensive back who isn’t quite as great with his stop-start ability as Kadarius Toney yet is still a very capable athlete...

Those lower body explosive numbers will assist him, as will the solid 3-cone. However, Toney’s burst, ability to sell, and contact balance may pose a problem for the young cornerback out of Texas Tech.

Keyvon Seymour

Seymour was a sixth-round pick in 2016 by the Buffalo Bills, who is projected to see snaps in the slot for the Eagles. This is a complete mismatch in favor of both slot receivers Kadarius Toney and Sterling Shepard.

Shepard was moved back inside to the slot whenever Golden Tate wasn’t playing. I feel his best position is undoubtedly in the slot; he’s a crisp route runner and one of the most underrated players on the Giants roster.

Toney aligned in the slot 70% of the time at Florida where they utilized a lot of spread concepts; Toney would be the No. 2 or No. 3 in a lot of 3x2 sets, and Dan Mullen, Florida’s head coach, used him a lot off the line of scrimmage on stacks and BUNCH formations. I hope to see this more often with Garrett calling the plays.

Toney’s athletic ability and change of direction skills will manipulate Seymour at all three levels of the field. It’s a bit uncertain how the Eagles and Gannon will employ their defensive backs--they will probably use a lot of zone, I’m sure, but this can allow Toney to find the voids in the zone because he does have good spatial awareness against zone coverages. 

He knows how to attack, how to sell routes, and when to stop moving while flashing his hands to the cornerback. 

What's next for the Giants this off-season? Sign up for our FREE newsletter for all the latest, and be sure to follow and like us on Facebook.

Submit your questions for our mailbag. And don't forget to check out the daily LockedOn Giants podcast, also available for subscription wherever you find podcasts.