The Giants picked a player on Thursday that wasn’t connected to them at all through the pre-draft process, although wide receiver was definitely a priority in round one.
Florida’s Kadarius Toney as the No. 20 overall pick sparked some intrigue but also prompted questions about how the Giants made this decision after a rare trade back from No. 11.
Here is some context and analysis we’ve uncovered since Toney was selected:
— Toney was viewed as this draft’s less polished version of Alabama’s Jaylen Waddle. The Giants’ prioritization of this versatile, explosive skill set could be proof that they had eyes for Waddle and expected him to be available at No. 11.
Once the Miami Dolphins drafted Waddle at No. 6, all the Giants needed was a fourth quarterback to go between picks No. 7 and 9, and they would have taken Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith. (The Eagles probably would have been happy with a CB at No. 12).
But the Lions, Panthers and Broncos all stayed and took position players. Denver may have passed on a QB because of Aaron Rodgers’ desire to be traded, with the Broncos as one of his preferred landing spots.
This domino effect was bad news for the Eagles at No. 12, who suddenly realized they had traded too far back from No. 6 out of all the players they preferred. Howie Roseman also clearly felt pressure to get a playmaker after infamously passing on Justin Jefferson last year.
The unusual part is that division rival Dallas colluded with the Eagles to screw the Giants out of Smith at No. 10. GM Dave Gettleman got good value in the Giants’ trade back, but he definitely was caught flat-footed anticipating one of the Alabama receivers would fall to 11 — and watching as neither did.
— That said, the Giants got a good return in their trade back to No. 20 with the Bears, and that’s because Chicago had competition. As I and others reported Thursday, New Orleans was exploring a trade up from No. 28, potentially for a quarterback like Alabama’s Mac Jones. So it turns out both the Minnesota Vikings (No. 14), per The Athletic, and the Saints, per SI.com, both called the Giants about the No. 11 pick, as well. This explains how Gettleman was able to get the Bears’ 2022 first-round pick, plus Chicago’s fifth-rounder and a fourth next year.
— The Eagles tanked a game in Week 17 of last season to keep the Giants out of the playoffs, and now they’ve colluded with the Cowboys to steal a draft pick from Big Blue. There was already plenty of bad blood between New York and Philly. Thursday’s drama set the scene for some nasty NFC East clashes in the fall.
— Gettleman seems to be on a mission to prove doubters wrong. In response to Steve Smith’s blistering March rant that Gettleman shops in “the pick-and-save aisle” because he doesn’t want an “alpha” receiver, Gettleman overpaid Kenny Golladay just to land the top free agent receiver. In response to national media mocking Gettleman’s track record of never trading back, Gettleman made the first trade back on Thursday by any Giants GM since 2006 — and the first ever of his nine-year GM career. We’ll see if these moves pay off. But remember: this is all necessary because Gettleman traded Odell Beckham Jr. away in 2019. And it’s interesting that he has added two receivers with off-field concerns after trading OBJ for “culture” reasons.
— In a best case scenario, if the Giants have a winning 2021 season, their own first-round pick in 2022 would be in the 20s, and then they would hope for the Bears to struggle to give them a pick in the teens at worst. “Getting that extra first is huge,” one executive said. In the worst case scenario, Thursday’s trade is good for the Giants if they are looking for a new quarterback next spring with two firsts, including one high pick, in their pocket to go get their guy. Giants fans don’t want to think about searching for another quarterback, but this is how a responsible organization has to think.
— Some league sources have questions about whether the Giants will be able to maximize Toney’s skill set and whether he fits Jason Garrett’s offense. Does this pick upgrade Daniel Jones’ every-down offense in 2021? That’s unclear. Jones “will have to find him on the field,” one source said. “If (Toney) is in the game, defenses will know he’s getting the ball or [serving] as a decoy because he’s so fast.” Toney requires an imaginative offensive coordinator who incorporates specific ways to get him the ball. He is not a prototypical receiver. Some scouts say he’s big enough to play inside and outside. Others are skeptical he can play regularly outside in the pros right away. His highest graded game of 2020 was against LSU, and he spent a lot of that game lined up in the backfield and making plays as a running back, not a wideout.
Joe Judge loves versatility. Toney was a quarterback in high school and ran the Wildcat early in his time at Florida. He will return punts. Those skills can come in handy. But where does he fit with Garrett? Many evaluators see Toney more ideally suited for a creative, motion-heavy offense like Andy Reid’s Chiefs. The only similar player who played on a Garrett offense recently was Tavon Austin with Dallas in 2018-19. The undersized speedster was 28 and 29 years old at the time, but the point is Garrett rarely used him. Austin played 115 offensive snaps in 10 games in 2018 (11.5 per game, 11% on the season). Then he played 304 snaps in 14 games in 2019 (21.7 per game, 27% on the season). His total stats in two years with the Cowboys: 21 catches, 317 yards, three TDs; 12 rushes, 102 yards, one TD; 27 punt returns for 142 and no TDs.
This is not a knock on Toney. I’m just presenting a legitimate question about where he fits in the Giants’ offense and how he helps Jones this year. Not everyone has those worries, though. Senior Bowl director Jim Nagy told me Thursday that the Giants “really diversified their offense with this addition” and Toney is a “great” weapon to help Jones in year three.
— Judge harped continuously on Thursday about the competition Toney and the Giants’ free agent signings will create. “We are very comfortable adding him to our roster to compete with other players on the team,” Judge said of Toney. When Judge says this, he means that no player is guaranteed a roster spot and everyone has to earn it. This is a message to his first-round pick, but it also puts his veterans on notice that they’re going to have to work to protect their spot. That brings us to Sterling Shepard.
Shepard’s contract runs through 2023, but the guaranteed money runs out after this season. He’ll be a big part of the Giants’ offense this fall, but Toney’s selection creates questions about Shepard’s future in 2022 as a receiver who functions best in the slot.
The Giants signed Golladay and John Ross this spring to team with Shepard, Slayton and Evan Engram, now they draft Toney. This is not good news for Dante Pettis, who was seeing some playing time late last season. But this is good news for the Giants to have a deep enough receiving corps that everyone must earn their keep.
The goal is to score more points. And the Giants think Toney will help them do that.
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