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Florida’s Kadarius Toney to return for senior season

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The Gators’ electric playmaker made his decision public on Sunday.

NCAA Football: Tennessee-Martin at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Gators will have one of their most electric players for a fourth year in 2020.

That’s the headline from Sunday’s decision by wide receiver/running back/playmaker Kadarius Toney to pass on early entry in the 2020 NFL Draft and return to Florida, something announced first by Toney on Twitter — along with a highlight film soundtracked by music he’s released under his Yung Joka nom de rap — and shortly after confirmed by a writeup from Florida itself.

Toney’s return is big on its own, though it’s unclear whether he was valued as more than a prospective playmaker by the NFL. His lack of refined skills as a wide receiver and diminutive size would have been significant knocks had he gone through the pre-Draft process — but it would have taken just one team dreaming on the former high school quarterback’s versatility as an all-purpose offensive weapon for him to get drafted.

Florida keeping him in the fold should continue to allow Dan Mullen to dream up new ways of getting Toney the ball, but it might also help Toney considerably if he is able to finally master the route tree and play concepts, and his likely uptick in usage after four senior wideouts that took the majority of Florida’s targets this year is likely to only help when it comes to his compilation of stats. Toney has recorded 10+ rushes and receptions in each of his three seasons as a Gator thus far, and has four touchdowns as a Gator; those numbers could go way up in an offense that might feature him as a third or fourth option.

And whether or not he sees a lot more touches and targets in 2020, Toney is likely to deliver thrills, like he did in Florida’s season-opening and -closing wins over Miami (an early 66-yard touchdown on a screen pass) and Florida State (a knifing 47-yard run that left several Seminoles grasping and gasping).

For Florida, Toney’s returns means that the nearly their entire contingent of draft-eligible players will return from a 2019 season that left the Gators on the outside looking in of both the College Football Playoff and the SEC Championship Game. Only cornerback CJ Henderson ultimately jumped headfirst into his pro career; every other Gator with a clear path to contributing and/or who was a significant contributor in 2019 and eligible to enter the NFL Draft will be back, with Feleipe Franks — unlikely to start again at Florida — serving as the exception to the rule.

That sort of continuity should only help Florida earn a lot of credibility with preseason pollsters and pundits.