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Florida Gators in the NFL, Week 5: Kadarius Toney, Kyle Pitts deliver star turns

Florida’s two best playmakers in 2020 are now turning heads in the NFL as rookies.

NFL: New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Thursday Night Football staffer and Florida fan Shawn Kopelakis, who might reverse those titles in a personal ranking, returns with his weekly rundown of the NFL fortunes of Gators greats at the next level...

In Week 5, the National Football League finally saw two-thirds of what made the Florida Gators’ offense go in 2020. Kadarius Toney followed up his breakout performance from Week 4 with one of the most impressive games I’ve ever seen a former Gator play, while Kyle Pitts created an international incident with his monster game in London.

It’s probably gonna be a few years before the final member of the trio gets a crack, since Kyle Trask is sitting behind an ageless wonder who may play — and at an unreal level — until he’s 50. But the pass-catchers that Trask threw to for much of the last two years looked like burgeoning stars last Sunday.

As I wrote a few weeks ago, Toney was hurt throughout the summer and into training camp with a variety of injuries, and also missed time due to COVID-19. This slowed his development and involvement in the Giants offense. But after watching his highlights from last week, you’ll see Toney has quickly figured out how to play in the NFL.

The Giants lined Toney up all over the field — inside and outside, and in the backfield. They used him on quick digs, curls, and screens. They ran him on go routes down the sideline, where he delivered two of the best catches of the week by any NFLer. They lined him up at wildcat, where he almost scored. He even attempted a double pass but had a perfect cross-field throwback dropped by Devontae Booker.

Toney is so electric — even at the highest level of football — that short passes and gains are still adventures and headaches for opposing defenses.

Toney’s huge day was littered with all kinds of marks. He became one of just five rookies in NFL history with at least 10 catches and 185 yards receiving. He put up the most receiving yards by a Giants rookie in history, surpassing Odell Beckham’s mark of 185 from 2014. Pro Football Focus (PFF) gave him a 92.4 overall grade, highest by any Giants rookie ever. His 93.3 receiving grade was the highest grade ever by a Giants receiver, and is in the top five among all rookie receivers since 2010.

Toney is now second in the entire league among receivers in missed tackles forced with nine, despite barely touching the ball in his first three games. And he’s third among receivers in yards after the catch, boasting an average of 8.25 yards gained once the ball touches his hands on a reception — especially impressive for a player whose yards have not come on long plays where he runs untouched to daylight.

It was not all roses, though, for Toney. He injured his ankle in the third quarter. Fortunately, it doesn’t appear to be too serious as he has practiced, albeit in a limited capacity, this week.

The bigger blemish was his ejection for fighting.

And, yeah, throwing punches at helmets is just dumb — on multiple levels. Fortunately for Toney, he didn’t hurt his hand on the swing, and it looks like he’ll avoid a suspension. He also publicly apologized this week for the lack of self-control.

It’s hilarious to think that, if Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton didn’t both go down with injuries a few weeks back, Giants offensive coordinator Jason Garrett might still have Toney on the sidelines. But the NFL is as much about opportunity as it is about skill level at times, and now that Toney has had the opportunity to prove that he deserves many more, there is no telling where his elite skills will take him.

Players of the Week

Toney is certainly one of them. But Kyle Pitts deserves some love, too, after getting into the end zone and going over 100 yards for the first time as a pro.

It took the Falcons five games, but maybe they finally realize what a red zone menace Pitts is. On one snap within sniffing distance of the painted area, the Jets decided to cover Pitts with defensive end Jonathan Franklin-Myers. Now, I know tight ends, safeties, and corners are all mismatches for Pitts, but I think I’d take my chances with them over a 300-pound defensive lineman.

With the Falcons down Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage, they were forced to rely on Pitts for the first time this season. Turns out he’s reliable: He hauled in nine of his 10 targets and surely reminded Falcons fans of Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez with his performance, which included catches on a couple of slants and outs and a huge play late in the game on a deep post.

Pitts is also a contender for play of the week thanks to his slick one-handed grab, even if it’s not topping what Toney did. In addition to the catch itself, I love that this is a deep crossing route, something I’d like to see Pitts run more.

The Falcons’ reward for playing the Jets was beating the Jets, but their reward for traveling to London is coming back to a bye week; Pitts, consequently, won’t have a chance to follow up his breakout game until next week. But even when Ridley returns, I’d imagine Matt Ryan is going to keep looking to Pitts with the understanding that his size, speed, and hands make him a mismatch on just about every play.

Play of the Week

Toney had so many to choose from that his only competition for this spot was really his own highlight reel — but this play is my favorite.

That’s pick machine and Defensive Player of the Year candidate Trevon Diggs, who has solid underneath coverage taking away the crossing route ... until Toney slams on the brakes and cuts back out to the sideline. Look at how much separation he creates from the NFL’s leader in interceptions! It’s absolutely incredible route running from Toney, something that was not listed as a huge strength for him coming out of Gainesville.

Here are all of the Week 5 stats (ranked and grouped in order of performance):

The Good

  • Kyle Pitts: 9 rec, 119 yds, 1 TD, 54 snaps (69%)
  • Kadarius Toney: 10 rec, 189 yards, 1 rush, 7 yards, 0/1 passing, 37 snaps (54%)
  • Alex Anzalone: 4 tackles, 1 INT, 1 pass defended, 67 snaps (100%)
  • D.J. Humphries: 61 snaps (100%)
  • Jonathan Greenard: 3 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL, 1 QB hit, 34 snaps (53%)
  • Joe Haden: 5 tackles, 1 pass defended, 60 snaps (100%)
  • Chauncey Gardner-Johnson: 5 tackles, 77 snaps (93%)
  • Keanu Neal: 5 tackles, 34 snaps (50%)
  • Janoris Jenkins: 3 tackles, 70 snaps (99%)
  • Freddie Swain: 1 rec, 9 yds, 1 punt return, 13 yards, 40 snaps (62%)
  • Van Jefferson: 1 rec, 16 yds, 39 snaps (58%)
  • Demarcus Robinson: 1 rec, 8 yards, 65 snaps (78%)
  • Jawaan Taylor: 71 snaps (100%)
  • Dante Fowler, Jr.: 1 tackle, 25 snaps (45%)

The Limited

  • Carlos Dunlap: 3 tackles, 1 pass defended, 20 snaps (30%)
  • T.J. Slaton: 2 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 2 QB hits, 13 snaps (19%)
  • Max Garcia: 25 snaps (41%)
  • Evan McPherson: 0/2 FG, 2/2 XP, missed two potential game-winning kicks, maaaaybe celebrated a bit early on one of them
  • Marcell Harris: 3 tackles, 1 TFL, 17 snaps (28%)
  • C.J. Henderson: 3 tackles, 14 snaps (21%)
  • Jonathan Bullard: 2 tackles, 18 snaps (32%)
  • Tommy Townsend: 2 punts, 44.0 Avg
  • Johnny Townsend: 4 punts, 42.5 Avg
  • Tyrie Cleveland: 1 tackle, 5 offensive snaps (8%), 9 ST snaps (35%), first game of the season
  • Taven Bryan: 18 snaps (28%), no stats
  • Vernon Hargreaves III: 4 ST snaps (15%), no stats
  • Jeff Driskel: no snaps

The Inactive

  • Marcus Maye: DNP (ankle)
  • Marco Wilson: DNP (ribs)
  • Trent Brown: DNP (calf)
  • Lerentee McCray: DNP (hamstring)
  • Jonotthan Harrison: DNP (Achilles)
  • La’mical Perine: Inactive
  • Kyle Trask: Inactive
  • Feleipe Franks: Inactive
  • Stone Forsythe: Inactive
  • Fred Johnson: Inactive