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Great Expectations: What to Expect From a Healthy Kadarius Toney in 2023

The Chiefs hope to repeat as Super Bowl winners in 2023. But to get there, they will need a healthy Kadarius Toney to pick up where he left off from in 2022.

(Photo by: Jay Biggerstaff/USA TODAY Sports)

The Kansas City Chiefs offense will need more than a healthy Patrick Mahomes in 2023; getting the 2020-Florida Gator version of Kadarius Toney represents another crucial factor. Even though the team drafted SMU’s Rashee Rice in this past draft, Toney is the favorite to be the team’s No. 1 option at WR on the depth chart. The 24-year-old began his career with the Giants. However, after things didn’t work out in New York, Kansas City landed him in a trade in October. In seven regular-season games with the Chiefs, he had 14 catches for 171 yards and two touchdowns. He also had another score on the run. One of the main reasons Kansas City was victorious against the Eagles in February was because of offensive weapon Kadarius Toney. Toney’s talent is evident, but the production hasn’t been there. He has played in just 19 games in two NFL seasons, and has struggled to stay healthy. However, Chiefs GM Brett Veach mentioned that the Chiefs only got their hands on him for half the season in 2022, and that they have high expectations for one of the NFL’s most versatile players moving forward.

With Mahomes throwing to a healthy Toney, the Chiefs offense should return to their style they ran with Tyreek Hill in their system.

One of the ways Toney should find success this season is taking advantage of the loaded boxes from opposing defenses attempting to contain the Chiefs’ running game. All that will do is allow the 4.39 speedster and his teammate Rice who stands at 6-foot-2, 200-pound to face single coverage and bully opposing corners. With a trio of Isiah Pacheco, Jerick McKinnon, and Deneric Prince running behind an elite offensive line, Toney should once again find favorable matchups downfield this year.

Toney’s underneath game is outstanding, as he can beat press coverage to eventually get inside on a slant route or under route. Toney’s versatility allows him to consistently win in this part of his game. His ability to catch screen passes and smoothly transition up field is second-to-none as he often slashes defenses by finding lanes and getting into those lanes efficiently.

The other thing we’re likely to see is Toney in the backfield. They do use him as a conventional running back at times similar to how they’ve used Skyy Moore, Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman and DeAnthony Thomas in the past, but running between the tackles is not his game, there’s no space there for him to explode into. More likely, the Chiefs will use outside zone stretch plays with Toney to set up a pass into the flat. Offensive coordinator Matt Nagy has utilized Hill in the same way and he also utilized Tarik Cohen in the same way when he was the head coach for the Chicago Bears.

With Isiah Pacheco and Deneric Prince will now force defenses to game plan for a run-first attack from the Chiefs, but it’s Toney that will draw a large dose of attention beyond the defensive line. The Chiefs love to move Toney around, shifting him from out wide to the slot to lined up in the backfield.

That versatility puts a ton of pressure on defenses to figure out who will be responsible for him. Thus far, no matter which coverages have been used, Toney will find room anyway.

On this play against the Raiders, we see Toney (#19) in the backfield opposite Jerick McKinnon (#1) next to Patrick Mahomes (#15) who’s in the shotgun. McKinnon will be one of Toney’s lead blockers on this handoff play is lined to Mahomes’ left. Tight end Travis Kelce (#87) and center Creed Humphrey (#52) execute their block to accompany McKinnon’s lead blocking. Mahomes hands the ball off to Toney who has some open space in front of him thanks to the efforts of his lead blockers. Toney reading his lead blockers inside seeing Humphrey on the way to seal (nice job by him) Raiders linebackers along with Kelce in the second level. 

There aren’t many defenders who can catch Toney when he’s at top speed. He’s slippery enough to get past tacklers when he has the ball and shows that same speed when going up the sideline in routes. 

Another key part of Toney’s game is his ability to make contested catches with defenders draped on him, like this catch against the Jaguars.

Chiefs lines up in 11 personnel with Toney, and tight end Travis Kelce at the top of the screen. Justin Watson in the slot and Marquez Valdes-Scantling at the bottom of the screen. Jerick McKinnon is in the backfield alongside Mahomes. Kelce runs a crossing pattern route underneath. His route was the big reason Mahomes found Toney open.

The offense fakes the lead play with McKinnon to the left side, and Mahomes then rolls to the right side of the formation where Toney is running a straight go route. Toney makes an excellent adjustment, breaking up field to the space left by Tyson Campbell. Mahomes launches a rocket to Toney for a 20-yard completion to the Jacksonville 5-yard line showing great concentration, strong hands and the athleticism to adjust to the ball in flight and pull down catches.

One of the reasons Toney is one of the most fun players to watch is his athletic ability. Listed at 6 feet tall and 193 pounds, Toney demonstrated in his college career at Florida that he possessed many of the skills the Chiefs covet: elite speed, rare quickness, reliable hands, intelligence, elusiveness in the open field and impressive vision as a returner that he puts on display against the Eagles in Super Bowl LVII.

The Chiefs are in 12-personnel, Mahomes motions Toney across to the right side and Darius Slay follows in off-man coverage. Mahomes collects the snap and hits Toney in stride on a swing route look that became a flat route where Slay tricked from the outside to the inside and is unable to get after his man, who takes off down the sideline for the score. 

Along the sideline just like his first Chiefs TD vs the Jaguars, Toney uses his speed to easily run past defenders. Just like his epic punt return in the Super Bowl, Toney is able to shake and muscle through defenders en route to the endzone before he got stopped.

While 2022 currently stands as the best season of Toney’s career, 2023 has the potential to be a similarly productive year but better if he’s able to stay on the field. Patrick Mahomes, combined with an elite-level offensive line, Rashee Rice and talented running backs, can only help take pressure off the star receiver. If the Chiefs can use Toney on a snap count of 15-30 snaps a game, he should be able to do the things we’re used to seeing him do on the football field: using his speed, physicality and athletic ability to take over a game.

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