Giants wide receivers coach Tyke Tolbert is not prone to hyperbole. So his description of Kadarius Toney’s skill set in a Friday phone call with the Daily News was eye-opening.
“In my opinion he was the best player in this draft with the ball in his hands,” Tolbert said. “This guy can make you miss and he can break tackles. Some guys can make you miss and go the distance. Some guys can’t make you miss, but they’ll run you over. This guy does both. And he has great contact balance when the ball is in his hands.”
Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer admitted he’s jealous of the Giants.
Meyer told ESPN’s College Gameday on Friday that it “broke my heart” when a team drafted a player ahead of his Jaguars’ pick at No. 25. On Saturday, Meyer revealed that player was Toney.
“I got to know him over the last couple weeks,” Meyer said. “You watch him play and he’s a human highlight reel.”
The Giants’ No. 20 overall selection of Toney showed their obvious affinity for the player, but hearing Joe Judge’s staff talk about him the past few days, it’s obvious the team doesn’t just view him as a gadget or slot receiver.
They think he can do it all.
“He’s capable of playing outside receiver. He will play outside receiver. And he’s been told he’ll play outside receiver,” Tolbert said. “Just like with Kenny Golladay now, we’re teaching him the concept of everything so wherever they line up they’ll know what to do and won’t be pegged as an inside or outside guy.
“There are some guys who have skills to be more productive as an outside or inside,” Tolbert added. “But the good thing about KT is the fact he can do both at a really high level.”
Plenty of the Giants’ coaches have known this about Toney for a long time, too.
Assistants Jeremy Pruitt and Jody Wright (Alabama) and Kevin Sherrer (Georgia) all recruited Toney as a star quarterback out of Mattie T. Blount High School in 2016.
“The last time I remember having a conversation with him was at a 7-on-7 camp at Alabama, and I believe his team won with him playing quarterback, and he was playing free safety on defense,” said Pruiitt, who tried to recruit Toney as a defensive back. “It was me and him standing there talking at Bryant Denny Stadium for a pretty long time.”
Pruitt watched Toney practice several times in high school. Toney took an unofficial visit but ultimately chose Florida. Then Pruitt had the honor of trying to stop Toney when he became Tennessee’s head coach.
“When he gets the ball in his hands, he’s like a running back,” Pruitt said. “You have to tackle him. Some guys look to go down. He doesn’t look to go down. He has really good balance and body control. He can make you miss. He’s really tough. And he’s got speed to accelerate and take it the distance … I remember talking to him about being more of a defensive back. He obviously made the right decision.”
Toney dropped only three of his 123 catchable targets for the Gators, per Pro Football Focus. He erupted his senior year for 1,145 scrimmage yards and 11 touchdowns, on top of 294 yards and a touchdown in the return game.
Judge and his coaching staff don’t intend to hand their players anything, Toney included.
The head coach said after picking him: “There’s a lot of things he can do and has a lot of versatility, but like every rookie coming in here, they’ve got to earn what they get and we’re going to work them multiple positions to find their strengths. We can’t assume what we saw on college tape is the best fit for them.”
But Toney’s physical tools are so unique, it shouldn’t be difficult to find a place for him.
Roy Holmes of EXOS San Diego, who trained Toney for 10-11 weeks ahead of Florida’s pro day in March, said the receiver’s gifts were clear from Day 1.
“We got him on the field for change of direction and broad jump, and he damn near jumped 11-feet the first day,” Holmes said Saturday. “I ran back inside to all my assistant strength coaches and physical therapy staff and I said, ‘We got us one. This kid is ridiculous.’”
Toney could have stayed in Florida and worked out, but he flew out to California because he “really wanted to lock in.”
He could barely do one rep on the 225-pound bench when he arrived due to a past shoulder injury that had kept him off the bar. But by the end of his training he was throwing up 13-14 reps.
“He came in wearing a hoodie and baggy clothes, and now he’s in compression shirts and flexing on everybody in the background,” Holmes said with a laugh.
Holmes said Toney locked in and was “one of the best teammates that I’ve seen in here,” helping and pushing the rest of the 10-person group.
“I had a small group due to COVID,” Holmes said. “There were a couple kids that weren’t as fast but they could tell he’s the alpha when it comes to speed. And he’d be on the side helping these guys out, saying look this is what the coach told me. Then the guy would try it and his time was dropping down.”
Toney and Washington DT Levi Onwuzurike, a Detroit Lions second-round pick, bonded and fed off each other’s energy. And Toney lit it up at Florida’s pro day:
He ran a 4.37 40-yard dash, down the 4.5 he ran on the first day of training. He jumped 11-feet four inches in the broad, and he skied 39.5 inches in the vertical.
Not every player translates impressive measurables to the field, of course, but Toney’s film speaks for itself.
“He’s a playmaker,” director of college scouting Chris Pettit said Thursday. “He’s instinctive, he’s tough, makes a lot of plays with the ball in his hands. We feel he has flex inside and out. He also has value as a returner for us.”
The only common criticism of Toney’s abilities is that he isn’t a polished route runner. But Judge and the Giants like upside in young players. On top of that, Tolbert said that’s no different from any other receiver coming into the league.
“Most rookies I’ve ever coached in my 18 year career need to work on route running technique,” Tolbert said. “They all need work: first round, seventh round, undrafted. They all need work on their routes. Most times whatever school they’re at, they’ll do what’s best for their program, and they should. But some of the things they teach are different from what we teach. So we have to teach how we want things done.”
Funny enough, Toney had the best game of his senior season against Tolbert’s alma mater, LSU. He rattled off 238 scrimmage yards and a touchdown on 12 offensive touches.
“Yes, unfortunately he had a game against LSU,” Tolbert said. “But the Tigers won. I messed him about that [when we talked].”
Now the Giants are thrilled to have a player who can line up anywhere, in the backfield, on the inside or outside on the line. The options don’t intimidate them. It’s the opposite.
“It makes it easier because you don’t have to figure it out ‘Can he do this or that,’” he said. “It’s all over the tape that he can do these things. With the skill set he has, I’m excited to be able to work with him.”
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