For four years, Kadarius Toney made big plays for Florida in orange and blue.
At the NFL level, he’ll probably be ditching the orange, but not the big plays.
Toney, who boosted his NFL stock considerably during his stellar senior season in 2020, came off the board midway through the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft on Thursday, with the New York Giants selecting him at No. 20 overall.
He’ll be joining an offense that added Kenny Golladay to a core that consisted of Saquon Barkley, Sterling Shepard, and Evan Engram, and hoping to help Daniel Jones blossom into an above-average NFL starter or better. And he’ll be expected to be both a dangerous weapon on any touch because of his versatility and a reliable slot receiver because of massive improvements on his technique as a senior.
After compiling modest stats in cameo appearances that yielded a fair few big plays through his first three years with the Gators — Toney had a combined 500 rushing and receiving yards in 2018, but didn’t get to 300 combined yards in those categories as either a freshman or junior — the talented Alabama native considered the idea of declaring for the 2020 NFL Draft before ultimately returning to Gainesville.
The decision likely made him many millions of dollars, as his surprising senior year — in which he caught 70 passes for 984 yards and 10 touchdowns, leading a Florida team that also had Kyle Pitts in the first two categories — showed him to be a skilled wide receiver rather than a playmaker who needed to be force-fed touches. The same mind-blowing combination of agility, balance, and strength that allowed Toney to befuddle defenders with the ball in his hands was still a part of his game, but he added sharp route-running that took full advantage of his athleticism to his repertoire, and in doing so became an improbable workhorse who grabbed five receptions in all but two of Florida’s games and topped 100 receiving yards in four of his last five.
A lack of height or true breakaway speed — though Toney ran a 40-yard dash in under 4.4 seconds at Florida’s Pro Day, he was also frequently caught in the open field, his top-end speed never matching his sometimes unnatural acceleration in tight quarters — limits Toney’s ceiling a fair bit, and the Giants don’t have a great offensive track record of late. Even if Toney projects as a player suited to a role not entirely unlike Tyreek Hill’s in the NFL, it would be a surprise if he can match that sort of production.
But the guy who raps under the name Yung Joka made himself a wild card worth playing as often as possible over his Florida career, and seems likely to flummox NFL defenses so long as he can stay healthy.