From now until the 2021 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to showcase as many prospects as possible and examine both their strengths and weaknesses. Most of these profiles will feature individuals that the Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to have an interest in, while a few others will be top-ranked players. If there is a player you would like us to analyze, let us know in the comments below.
#1 Kadarius Toney / WR Florida – 6’0” 193
- Swiss Army knife type of player. Played quarterback in high school, can line up in the backfield, drastically improved at wide receiver (main position)
- Technical with his footwork, loose hips. Has a solid understanding of the slot route tree. Will be able to further advance and polish his route running with NFL coaching and more time at the wide receiver position
- Great quickness, burst, agility, balance and elusiveness. Can stretch the field vertically
- Solid hands. Hands catcher
- Willing blocker
- Has some experience as a returner
- Only one true year of production at wide receiver (2020 as a senior)
- Was not the main focus of defenses in 2020 (Kyle Pitts). Doesn’t project to be a #1 receiving threat in the NFL (needs surrounding pieces and a scheme to fit his skill set)
- Can try to do too much at times (while running routes and with the ball in his hands)
- 2020 Stats – receiving: 70 receptions, 984 yards, 10 touchdowns
- 2020 Stats – rushing: 19 attempts, 161 yards, 8.5 average, 1 touchdown
- Played in 38 career games at Florida
- Finished with 2,170 career scrimmage yards and 14 touchdowns
- Four-star recruit out of high school where he was also a track athlete
The Pittsburgh Steelers have a young wide receiver room. They are also productive. Diontae Johnson is beginning to blossom (and will continue to, so long as he limits his drops), JuJu Smith-Schuster had another productive year, Chase Claypool had a very promising rookie season, James Washington improved in a multitude of areas, and Ray-Ray McCloud had some production on his touches.
The Steelers’ top three receivers (Johnson, Claypool, Smith-Schuster) also combined for 247 catches, 2,627 yards, and 25 touchdowns. The team could be losing 97 of those catches, 831 of those yards, and 9 of those touchdowns because JuJu Smith-Schuster is currently a free agent. As much as I would love to see him retained by the team, we have to accept the possibility that he might take his talents elsewhere, especially with the Steelers’ current cap situation.
If that is the case, I think the Steelers could look to draft a wide receiver in the 2021 NFL Draft. An intriguing name to get acquainted with is Kadarius Toney. While not a carbon copy of Smith-Schuster, Toney does have some similar traits that could be effectively utilized in the Steelers’ offense. He will likely play the majority of his snaps in the slot at the next level, and that is where Smith-Schuster was heavily utilized in Pittsburgh’s quick passing attack last season. While I do believe Smith-Schuster was underutilized as a field stretcher, he provided yards after the catch and was a clutch target in short yardage and key situations. Toney may not be on the same level as Smith-Schuster in terms of fighting for those hard-nosed, gritty yards (although he shows flashes), but he will be able to provide yards after the catch, effort and elusiveness to escape tackles, as well as the ability to garner touches (or influence the defense) on screens, jet sweeps, end arounds, and other misdirection plays that the Steelers’ have been implementing more of in their offensive scheme.
Kadarius Toney took a massive jump as a receiver in 2020 and should be able to further develop his game at the NFL level. I’m sure a lot of you have seen some of his highlights on Twitter. This is what caught my eye and motivated me to dive further into his tape. I noticed some of his unique releases from these Twitter clips, and I saw even more when combing through some of his games.
This first clip is from Florida’s game against South Carolina in 2020. What immediately stood out to me is Toney’s release. Remind you of anyone? What struck me is how similar I thought this release was to one of the best NFL wide receivers currently playing in the league: Davante Adams. Toney’s routes and play style also reminded me a bit of Diontae Johnson. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Toney is as good as Adams or Johnson at this point in his career, I just wanted to point out the similarities I saw in certain areas of their releases and route running, which I will expand upon a little later in the article.
Back to the clip. Toney is being covered man to man by his defender, who’s in off coverage. He bursts off the line to close the space between him and the defender, to which he then utilizes a hop/skip (a patented part of Davante Adams’ release – a weakness of it is being exposed to a jam from the defender) into a hard jab with his right foot. This jab makes the defender overcommit to the outside and almost trip over his own feet, then Toney is able to cut inside to a sea of open space. Since the defense is playing Cover 2 man with safeties deep, the defenders on the left side of the field are sticking with their assignments upfield and have their backs turned. This makes it a foot race for Toney, and this is something he is accustomed to, being a former high school track athlete. To cap off the play, he is then able to elude a total of five defenders on his way into the end zone.
This next clip from Florida’s game against Missouri in 2020 shows Toney utilizing elements of both the “crossover” and “euro step” basketball moves to sell the outside release in order to two-step inside. This also reminded me of Davante Adams because this is something he has talked about in the past. This video is Adams discussing how he utilizes elements from the game of basketball in his releases. Another receiver that has talked about utilizing basketball moves in their game is former Seattle Seahawk Doug Baldwin.
When watching Kadarius Toney’s film, I saw these unique moves. Toney has not been playing the receiver position long, serving as a dual-threat quarterback in high school and spending some time without a true role in college. He should be given time to build upon the jump he made as a route runner in 2020 in order to further accustom himself to the wide receiver position. Basketball moves often translate well into football and can be utilized effectively as long as you work to perfect your knowledge of how and when to use them. The goal is to keep the defensive back guessing. As they try to counter for what the receiver has shown, the receiver will then be able to add different wrinkles to exploit weaknesses that the defender exposes himself to.
Moving on, this clip is from Florida’s game vs. Alabama in the 2020 SEC Championship. Kadarius Toney is lined up on the left side of the field. He is being covered man to man by a corner who is in off coverage with his hips turned slightly towards the middle of the field. Toney utilizes a prolonged skip (another example of him utilizing a hop/skip) in his stem after eating up space, which allows him to glide to the defender and freeze him in place. He then crosses the face of the corner and puts his head down to accelerate up the sideline. The defender is unable to get hands on, which allows Toney to fly right past for the touchdown. Toney also does a good job of getting his head around quickly to track the ball after beating his man.
In this clip from the same game against Alabama, we are able to see how Toney is utilized in a “Swiss Army knife” fashion. Toney often lines up in the backfield and is given manufactured touches due to how dangerous he becomes with the ball in his hands. In this clip, Toney is sent into motion then receives the handoff. It looks like he wants to follow the block of the running back, but as Alabama defenders quickly swarm to the ball and begin to close off any path towards the sideline, Toney decelerates and flips his body towards the open hole off the right side of the line. He then scoots past some outreached hands for the first down, and spins to gain a couple extra yards at the end of the run.
This clip from 2019 also displays how Kadarius Toney is utilized as a game changer in a variety of different ways. Even though he had not yet blossomed into a starting wide receiver, he was still making plays. In Florida’s game against Florida State, Toney takes the touch pass through a multitude of defenders for a massive gain. He displays balance, agility, elusiveness, and vision.
In this clip from Florida’s game against Ole Miss in 2020, 6’0 Kadarius Toney displays that he is not scared to get involved in the run game. He is lined up just off the right shoulder of the tight end, and as the ball is snapped, he immediately attacks the nearest defender (who has his eyes in the backfield), driving him backwards. The play doesn’t go anywhere, but Toney shows he isn’t afraid to lay a block when his team needs him to. For a slot receiver that isn’t the biggest guy ever, this is a positive.
Another clip against Ole Miss again depicts Toney’s dynamic ability with the football. Like the clip against Alabama, Toney is sent into motion and receives the handoff. After a quick cut inside he is met at the line of scrimmage by an Ole Miss defender. Toney runs through him and is able to keep his balance in order to take the jet sweep upfield for a big gain. Toney makes plays with the ball in his hands.
In this last clip from the Ole Miss game, Kadarius Toney runs a whip route out of the slot against man to man coverage. Instead of working towards the middle of the field then to the sideline, he does the inverse, faking towards the sideline then spinning to the middle of the field. Toney patiently approaches the defender, then suddenly drops his hips, plants his left leg into the ground, and accelerates into a spin that leads him into a wide-open catch. He seems to have a solid foundation and understanding of the slot route tree, which he will be able to expand upon in the NFL.
This clip from the South Carolina game displays one of Kadarius Toney’s main weaknesses (other than only one year of production at wide receiver, which has to be noted). Toney is fielding a punt and finds some room to work with. At the end of the return he decides to cut towards the closing defender (Jaycee Horn) in order to try and juke him and continue upfield. It’s an excellent return, but this is an example of a play where I think Toney tried to do too much. Instead of slowing down and trying to juke his way past the remaining defender (which ultimately allowed trailing defenders to catch up and could have resulted in a big hit), he should have continued upfield or tried to proceed towards the left side of the field where his teammate was throwing a block. The only player that I saw show up from further down the field after Toney was tackled was the punter, and I would much rather take the odds of him juking a punter rather than Jaycee Horn. Trying to do too much is something that Toney does while running routes and with the ball in his hands at times. It is something that playmakers often struggle with because of how badly they want to make something happen.
I’m a fan of Kadarius Toney’s game. In the modern NFL, players who are capable and can excel in a multitude of different roles are invaluable. Alvin Kamara is one of my favorite non-Pittsburgh Steelers, and while he may not be the best running back from purely a rushing perspective, his receiving ability adds another dimension that defenses have to scheme for. This is called being a chess piece. Kadarius Toney is a chess piece. I think if the the value is right and JuJu Smith-Schuster ends up leaving in free agency, the Pittsburgh Steelers could look at adding Kadarius Toney to a young and hungry receiver room.
Projection: Early Day Two
Games Watched: Florida State (2019), Alabama (2020), Missouri (2020), South Carolina (2020), Ole Miss (2020), Texas A&M (2020)