The slogan for the 2021 Reese’s Senior Bowl is “The Draft Starts In Mobile.”
For Kadarius Toney, the draft—and for that matter, his entire life—started at this game. His mother went into labor with “K.T.” while at the Senior Bowl game. But his career didn’t start quite in Mobile.
Instead, it started about eight miles northwest in Eight Mile, Alabama. While the former high school quarterback, in the midst of meetings and practices, was showcasing his potential as a NFL wide receiver, just down University Avenue and a few blocks off the path, Blount High School was retiring his No. 4 jersey.
“Honestly it means a lot to me, honestly, to be able to come home and take advantage of the opportunity that’s available,” commented Toney, back in his hometown for the annual NFL-led all-star game.
“It’s not everywhere you get to show NFL scouts and take NFL coaching and show them you’re coachable and stuff like that."
COVID-19 restrictions meant Toney couldn’t be at the Blount ceremony, instead joining via webcam before taking the practice field again with 135 other college senior prospects. But the kid who once took the Mobile Bay Area by storm was still doing much the same, all these years later.
“I don’t really see a difference in what I do,” noted Toney, while reflecting on how he’d grown.
“I just elevated my game.”
One of the few Alabama native prospects to say no to Nick Saban, Toney spent four years in Gainesville as a Florida Gator. The do-it all offensive weapon did in fact elevate his game during that time, turning the most exciting player on the roster into one of the most dangerous weapons in the country.
And as he walked off the field in Gainesville for the last time, he dropped to a knee, buckled under the fog and said thank you.
“I wanted to leave my mark in the city of Gainesville. I started there, I wanted to end there with the best of my ability. When I was on the field, I dropped there, like, ‘what would I be without this game.’ And just took it in for a second.”
The human joystick had his most productive season yet largely because he learned not how to play receiver in spite of his elusive natural talent, but instead alongside it. That always seemed to be the biggest disconnect in Toney’s game; the knowledge that he could be both precise and unpredictable, sharp while running loose like Gumby, fast and patient.
“Honestly it depends on what he give me. I feel like if I wanna run through his face, I’ll do that. But if I can evade him, I’ll do that too.”
He capped his swan song with a 2020 season in which he accumulated 1,451 all-purpose yards: 984 receiving, 161 rushing, 12 passing, 139 punt return yardage and 155 in kickoff returns, along with 12 touchdowns.
He hopes the versatile stat sheet shows NFL coaches what he’s always known.
“I’m really an athlete, I can play whatever. I can play [defensive back], I can play safety, it wasn’t really a determining factor in what school I really went to. It was basically just opportunity. Whatever opportunity was given, I was ready to take it.”
As every team looks to find their own Tyreek Hill (Kansas City Chiefs) or Alvin Kamara (New Orleans Saints), Toney and his tendon-less knees present the best option, which is why so many recent mock drafts have him slated in the first round.
Toney—who has met with the Jacksonville Jaguars and every other team at this week’s Senior Bowl—says coaches have asked him about the comparison in meetings this week but haven’t necessarily approached him with the possibility of filling that role.
“Honestly this week is basically me to show the coaches like the player I am, the kind of person I am…the kind of ability I have, the kind of player I am, the skills I have, stuff like that.”
The Jaguars have 11 picks in the upcoming April 2021 NFL Draft. The No. 1 overall pick, belonging to the Jaguars for the first time in franchise history, is all but certain to be used on Clemson Tigers quarterback Trevor Lawrence. The remaining 10 picks will be used to surround him with playmakers and shore up the defense.
The Jags' second pick in the first round (No. 25) had been presumed to be there for a defensive playmaker, either an interior defensive lineman or safety. Yet as Toney continued to cut his way around defenders this week, moving past them faster than the circles he was spinning DB’s in to, one couldn’t help but wonder…what could Toney look like with head coach Urban Meyer and the Jacksonville Jaguars?
The Jaguars took a wide receiver in the second round last season in Laviska Shenault, but the Jaguars' current wide receiver room has plenty of size, strength, and long-speed. What they don't have is Toney's incredible blend of elusiveness and explosiveness.
The Jaguars are also currently in the market for a slot receiver due to 2020 slot receiver Keelan Cole being a free agent in March. If the Jaguars don't retain Cole, could Toney see himself catching passes from Lawrence in Jacksonville?
It’s an exciting possibility. And just like Toney’s football path started in Mobile, so will the Jaguars path to the 2021 draft. Now the question just remains, will they diverge?