Since being selected in the 2nd round of the 2016 draft out of Ohio State, New Orleans Saints wideout Michael Thomas has established himself as the NFL's best receiver. Thomas set league records for his productivity over his first four seasons with at least 92 receptions and 1,100 receiving yards each year. His 149 receptions in 2019 were an NFL record, and he led the league in both catches and receiving yards in 2018 and 2019.
Thomas sustained a severe ankle injury during the 2020 season opener against Tampa Bay. The injury caused him to miss nine games, and he was limited during the games he did play. Without their star receiver, an offensive deficiency that the Saints had over the previous few seasons was further exposed: the lack of wideout depth to complement Thomas.
Veteran Pro Bowler Emmanuel Sanders took over as the top receiver in Thomas' absence, but has always been more effective as a number 2 receiver. Sanders was released this offseason. The Saints expect big steps up from young wideouts Deonte Harris and Marquez Callaway, who have each shown great promise. They also hope to get some production from disappointing 2018 draft choice Tre'Quan Smith or former UDFAs Lil'Jordan Humphrey or Juwan Johnson.
Several mock drafts project that the Saints could choose a receiver with the 28th pick of the 1st round, something they've not done since Brandin Cooks in 2014. While the team has other more pressing needs on the defensive side, remember that they will be starting a quarterback other than Drew Brees to begin a season for the first time since 2005.
Adding another offensive weapon for their new signal caller might be the way they go. Perhaps they take a shot on one of the best playmakers in the SEC in 2020.
KADARIUS TONEY, WIDE RECEIVER (FLORIDA)
Pro Day 40m = 4.39
Pro Day Broad Jump = 11 feet, 4 inches
NFL.com Comparison (Lance Zierlein):
Harry Douglas (retired)
Toney was the Alabama 6A Player of the Year at Blount High School in Mobile, AL. before coming to Florida University. He missed time with injuries but appeared in eight games as a true freshman, catching 15 passes for 152 yards and rushing 14 times for 120 yards. That versatility would be a staple of his career with the Gators.
He’d play in 12 games as a sophomore in 2018, filling numerous roles. Toney had 25 receptions for 260 yards, carried the ball 21 times for 240 yards, and averaged over 22 yards per kick return. A shoulder injury limited him to just seven contests in 2019 and 253 yards of total offense.
Toney stepped into a more prominent role in the Florida offense alongside TE Kyle Pitts in 2020. He led the Gators and finished third in the SEC with 70 receptions for 984 yards, catching 10 touchdowns. Toney added 161 yards rushing and another score on 19 carries while averaging over 12 yards per punt return and 22.6 yards on kickoff returns. In four years with the Gators he had 120 receptions, 2,601 all-purpose yards, and 15 touchdowns.
Toney served just one season as a primary offensive weapon. That led some to wonder if he was just a one-year wonder in a pass-first attack. He played in every game last season, but missed several contests earlier in his career with injuries. His slight build can also be a disadvantage against bigger defensive backs in press coverage.
He thrived in a fairly simple Florida attack and is inexperienced as a route runner. That inexperience is clear in wasted motion at the top of his route, allowing defensive backs to close on him faster. Experience and polish would also allow Toney to better use his athletic advantage at the next level.
Toney shows the aptitude to improve as a route runner. He has instant change of direction skills that left some of the nation's best defensive backs looking foolish. He plays bigger than his listed size and has been productive from both outside or out of the slot.
Toney was a versatile weapon for the Gators all over the offensive formation. He was effective as a runner or in motion out of the backfield and was often even used as a Wildcat quarterback. Toney is deadly to defenses on quick screens and short throws, turning upfield quickly. His open field running ability and vision makes him a scoring threat from anywhere on the field.
His explosion and elite ball-tracking skills make him an ideal deep threat. Toney has a large catch radius and excellent hands, securing the ball quickly even in traffic. That makes him an effective target over the middle as well as in open space.
Toney doesn't have the prototypical size that the Saints prefer in their wideouts. However, his gamebreaking versatility would be perfect for a New Orleans offense that perfectly uses the versatile talents of players like Alvin Kamara, Taysom Hill, and Deonte Harris.
Kadarius Toney will be drafted anywhere from the early 20s in the 1st round to midway through the second. He must improve his route precision at the next level, but has the ability to threaten defenses at every level and contribute as a kick returner. Possibly a perfect weapon for a New Orleans team breaking in a new quarterback to add to their offense.