Fantasy Football Is Afraid of Kadarius Toney
The Kanas City Chiefs have been a predictable fantasy offense during the Patrick Mahomes II era. Based on the past five years, you can bet on the following as a GM:
- A top-five fantasy quarterback with QB1 upside.
- The likely No.1 overall fantasy tight end with the No.2 overall spot as his floor.
- A top-10 fantasy receiver with a top-three upside if the receiver plays at least 15 games.
We know Mahomes and Travis Kelce are two-thirds of what is essentially a tasty pie of fantasy passing production divided into three humongous slices. The big question is, who will own the receiver slice in the Chiefs' offense, or is it?
I don't think it is. GM Brett Veach broke down Toney's game and claimed the sky's the limit.
"[Offensive coordinator] Matt Nagy seems to be one of the most staunch believers that Toney has the talent and ability to take up the mantle of the team's top receiver in 2023." Veach and Nagy note Toney's intelligence for the game, how fast he learned the offense last year, and his underutilized vertical talents.
Still, Toney is barely valued among the top 40 receivers in fantasy drafts as we head into training camp. There's no way around it, I think fantasy football is afraid of the answer being Toney.
Toney has a reputation for immaturity that spans back to his years with Florida. Brian Daboll ran Toney out of town in New York, and instead of taking the high road, Toney told the media that he plans to wear his Super Bowl ring on his middle finger as a way of flipping off the Giants for "troll[ing] me."
It's not breaking news that many wide receivers have hair-trigger egos. However, combining that state of mind with a lengthy injury history of soft-tissue ailments that may have to do with his dynamic movement style as the top man on a depth chart with promising young options who could thrive in Toney's place, and fantasy GMs aren't embracing Toney as a fantasy weapon with every-week starter value.
When I sense public fear, I see a potential opportunity.
While Toney's tape isn't the stuff of most primary receivers starring for NFL teams, the potential for quick and significant growth is there. Even if it doesn't happen, Toney can be who he is in Kansas City and still be the most productive wide receiver on the team.
My Admiration for Toney Isn't New...
Before showing you why Toney doesn't have to become a route-runner along the lines of Davante Adams, Justin Jefferson, A.J. Brown, Stefon Diggs, or JaMarr Chase to become Kansas City's WR1, let's begin with what Toney offers an offense as an athlete.
Coming out of Florida, Toney compared favorably to Golden Tate but with better technique as a pass-catcher. One of the significant underlying factors in Toney's game is his tracking of the football.
Ball-tracking may seem fundamental to receiver play, but the NFL hasn't drafted as if it is. Sammie Coates is a recent example of players drafted over the years who excel after the catch as open-field runners but are reduced to gadget players because they can't track the ball consistently enough in the vertical game, and it prevents them from becoming match-up weapons who can win one-on-one.
Toney's explosive and dynamic footwork, as well as his athletic mobility, also bode well for his development as a route runner. Although his reliance and dynamic movements with wide and violent steps well outside his frame could generate big plays, it also led to slips and the potential for soft-tissue injuries.
We saw this happen during his rookie year with the Giants. By Year Two, Toney's reputation for nagging injuries and off-field immaturity was fodder for Giants' new head coach Brian Daboll's leadership agenda.
Why Brian Dabol had to make an example of Toney
Daboll inherited immature players at the wide receiver position in Toney and Kenny Golladay. Immaturity is seen as a negative, and it can be. But in this case, it’s more about youth, lack of perspective, and (at least in Golladay's case) being unintentionally enabled to think they are better than they are.
I have to believe that when Daboll took the Giants’ gig, he saw Toney as the most salvageable. Golladay earned a second deal off the backs of Golden Tate and Marvin Jones. These veterans created optimal matchups for Golladay, and he earned targets from a tough, big-armed passer in Matthew Stafford.
Obviously, Golladay has NFL skills to produce at a high level, but he needs more surrounding talent to achieve that productivity than a true primary receiver. Unfortunately, the Giants expected Golladay to be a primary option and it was an unrealistic expectation.
Gabriel Davis’ touters among NFL organizations and fantasy players in dynasty formats should take heed. (Also see Alvin Harper and Peerless Price for additional historical context).
Toney is an immense talent who can beat anyone one-on-one. Combined with his ball tracking and open-field skills, he has many of the traits to become a primary receiver. Behavior and habits in and out of the facility were the forms of maturity questions for Toney.
Combine these two factors of injury and maturity, and it presents head coaches with a choice. In almost every situation of this type, a veteran head coach prefers reliability to mercurial behavior — even when it is high-upside talent. Daboll knew he faced these challenges with Toney this heading into the summer and set a clear boundary that sends a message to the players and sets the culture.
Daboll likely set the tone this summer about an open competition to see if he could get both Golladay and Toney to mature in the ways they needed to. For Golladay, it was likely getting him to understand that a big contract doesn’t mean there’s nothing to prove or improve upon.
The drivers of Golladay’s success in Detroit, combined with his second contract, enabled a perspective on him that he has less to prove than he actually does. A deal of his type can reinforce both positive and negative behaviors and that’s something that a personnel department must be cognizant of. Golladay’s big contract likely makes him entrenched in this thinking that he deserves to be on the field even if the front office made the mistake of paying a complementary weapon to play a primary role.
Daboll likely knew this heading in New York. He had to think that he might have more success reaching Toney with this message and if he could do the same with Golladay, even better, but not the primary objective.
After all, if Daboll is benching the highly-paid free agent in Golladay to enforce boundaries set for the team, then no one would be immune, even an early-round draft pick like Toney. This also sends a message to the team about the culture Daboll is establishing and that he’s being fair.
It’s a great move to make in year one as a coach. It’s also wise to target a position that was bloated salary-wise relative to its production and deflect some of the attention away from Daniel Jones.
Kansas City got a player in Toney who can be a top-five receiver in the NFL if he becomes a more efficient mover and grows up—a common issue with many people in their early 20s.
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