Kadarius Toney is the dominant weapon we want Patrick Mahomes to have

Nov 13, 2022; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Kadarius Toney (19) runs the ball for a touchdown during the first half against the Jacksonville Jaguars at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 13, 2022; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Kadarius Toney (19) runs the ball for a touchdown during the first half against the Jacksonville Jaguars at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports /

For all of the bluster about wanting to give Patrick Mahomes another big weapon, the truth is that it’s already likely on the roster in Kadarius Toney.

The signs have pointed to it all along, but if you’re like me, you might have been slow to read the evidence or follow the breadcrumbs. It’s not that it’s a fool-proof plan or without risk, but the Kansas City Chiefs have their primary wide receiver already for the next season and maybe beyond. His name is Kadarius Toney.

If you find that a bit disconcerting, there’s nothing wrong with your perspective at all. You’re not being pessimistic or silly for hoping for more at the position. There are many fans from Chiefs Kingdom who think the same way, all for good reasons which we will cover in a second.

But it’s important to point to those crumbs laid out to begin to see the bigger picture for the Chiefs at the position for 2023 and why some of us—well, let me just speak for myself here—should have realized things before now.

The Chiefs love to utilize Kadarius Toney

Look, even those of us who have been waiting for another big move to happen—a signing, a trade, or maybe a draft pick by the end of the month—will at least nod with excitement at Kadarius Toney’s God-given talents. No one needs convincing of this.

Here’s what’s incredible about Kadarius Toney. Last year, we saw the Chiefs offense continue to put up even better numbers on offense by several metrics after trading Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins—an outcome unthinkable to almost everyone! Even without a franchise legend, Patrick Mahomes won an MVP award as Travis Kelce stepped up even more (somehow!), JuJu Smith-Schuster became an immediate asset, and secondary players stepped up and in.

Yet even with the offense operating at a still-historic pace, everyone in Chiefs Kingdom could see the difference when Toney was on the field. It was an unforeseen level of electricity in 2022—for a team that would go on to win the Super Bowl—and it was clear he was a difference maker. Suddenly the offense had someone who made you hold your breath on each touch. Suddenly anything felt possible from anywhere on the field. The Chiefs had lacked that level of dynamism, even with all of their production and talent.

The Chiefs also knew they had to get Toney the ball. On 109 offensive snaps, Toney had 19 touches—good for 17.4 percent. Let’s check out the comparisons here from last season

  • JuJu Smith-Schuster – 10.2 percent (765 snaps, 78 touches)
  • Skyy Moore – 8.0 percent (313 snaps, 25 touches)
  • Travis Kelce – 12.3 percent (914 snaps, 112 touches)
  • Mecole Hardman – 9.6 percent (303 snaps, 29 touches)
  • Justin Watson – 3.0 percent (494 snaps, 15 touches)
  • Marquez Valdes-Scantling – 5.5 percent (777 snaps, 43 touches)

Again, let’s repeat this: Toney had 17.4 percent. That means Toney was in control of the ball at nearly 2x the rate of Hardman, 3x the rate of MVS, and 6x the rate of Watson. He was also emphasized much more so than Smith-Schuster and Kelce.

An important side note here: Tyreek Hill was a similarly electric talent in his first year on offense and special teams and after seeing what he could do, the Chiefs cleared his desk of return responsibilities so he could flourish with a sole focus on offense. Tyreek’s usage rate during that rookie season: 20.4 percent. In other words, Toney’s small sample size is actually right in line with how the Chiefs used Tyreek in his rookie year.

Now, let’s admit this: Toney’s catch rate helps him here because he simply caught a much greater percentage of his targets than, say, Valdes-Scantling. Even more important is the small sample size. Toney’s limited snaps make for the sort of stats that can pop out like this and create dangerous inferences.

Except, let’s counter some of this by admitting: when was the last time you saw Andy Reid force any new receiver into the picture like this? Aren’t we always referring to the long runway that every new player has in Reid’s offense? But last fall, we were hearing how Toney was a quick study and saw first-hand that Reid and Mahomes loved to put the ball in his hands. So yes, it’s a small sample size, but even that goes against 10 years of history of watching Reid on the Chiefs sidelines.

The Chiefs traded a solid haul for Kadarius Toney

On the surface, the transaction for Toney doesn’t seem so steep. The Chiefs traded two draft picks for Toney from the New York Giants that came to a third- and sixth-round choice.

There were a lot of reasons to think that haul wasn’t a big deal for the Chiefs. For a team with so many draft picks coming to them, it made sense to make the deal just on that read alone. The Chiefs’ third-round pick is also more like an early fourth-round selection because they pick so late. And Toney had so much time left on a contract after being selected as a Top 20 wideout in the first place.

So while the Chiefs should feel good about the trade, the truth is that the Giants should, too. Think of recent trade hauls that other teams got from wide receivers who were clearly on the trade block.

  • Elijah Moore trade – The Jets got only a leap from the third to the second round from the Browns.
  • Brandin Cooks trade – The Texans got a 5th and 6th, but they even have to wait until 2024 for one.
  • Calvin Ridley trade – A conditional 4th and 5th went to the Falcons from the Jaguars.
  • Davante Parker trade – The Patriots leaped two rounds from the 5th to 3rd.
  • Robbie Anderson trade – The Cards gave up a 5th and 6th to the Panthers.

If you want to say these trades aren’t a big deal, what would you call Toney? He had 420 receiving yards in parts of two seasons by the time the Chiefs traded for him and his injury history had the meter pointed more toward “bust” than “boom”, yet the Chiefs traded a top 100 pick and another sixth—more than all of the aforementioned deals unless Calvin Ridley pushes the conditions of that deal higher—but Ridley was already an elite WR with some mental health concerns.

The Chiefs gave up for Toney the sort of bounty that will likely be somewhat commensurate with what it will cost to lure DeAndre Hopkins from the Cardinals at some point this spring or summer. That trade cost should have signaled something “more” knowing that the likes of Amari Cooper had been traded for a fifth-round pick just several months earlier. In a league where a discontented WR can be had for a day 3 swap, the Chiefs paid a bit more for Toney.

The Chiefs actually told us they love Toney

If you’re looking for more straightforward evidence that the Chiefs love Toney and will use him accordingly, let’s just look at what NFL reporter James Palmer had to say earlier this season. Remember that Palmer has a nice read on the Chiefs’ front office and is a very common source for news out of Arrowhead.

Right there in the report is something Palmer heard from someone in whom he has confidence. Otherwise, he would not report it. “The Chiefs believe will be WR1 in 2023” is the addendum next to Toney’s name right there. Based on what we’ve seen in terms of his electricity on the field, his usage rate, and the trade cost, we’re inclined to agree.

Answering the questions about Toney

Back to the questions, because those are important. Toney is not a clear-cut WR1 in the NFL. On paper, it might work, and the Giants took him at No. 20 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft because of that potential. But it makes sense for Toney to have his doubters for multiple reasons—which is why I was so late arriving to this particular party.

First, injuries are a big concern here. They are the cloud that looms over any projections for Toney and, to be fair, the Chiefs are likely just as concerned here. In fact, even in a short stint with the team, Toney dealt with injuries already in Kansas City, including an ankle injury that he suffered just by making such aggressive and incredible cuts without contact. (Basically, he broke his own ankles as the phrase goes.)

It’s in that very injury that the thrill and the frustration of watching Kadarius Toney (and depending on him) can be found. Can the Chiefs really go into the 2023 season believing that Toney can hold up as “the guy opposite Travis Kelce”? Doesn’t it feel like too much can go wrong? For his doubters, the answer is affirmative, which is why so many are still cheering for DeAndre or were hoping for Odell or some other move to bolster the position. (Which is also why they jeer at the Justin Watson news when waiting for more.)

It should also be noted that the very team with the first-round investment in Toney gave up after just over a year with him. It was an offense looking for any help or answers and yet they seemed to quit on him even earlier than that. That’s about the quickest cash in on a major investment since the Chiefs dumped KeiVarae Russell just a few months after taking him in the third round.

To that, the only answer I have is to shrug. The Giants have been a pitiful organization for some time and the leadership regime in place was not responsible for Toney. Maybe they just felt like they’d rather deal with someone more reliable in the “availability” column or give both parties a fresh start for some extra picks. Or maybe Toney was hitting on Brian Daboll’s sister. Either way, we’re entering into territory without answers here.

The bottom line

it’s not that the Chiefs aren’t interested in another wide receiver. I think they are and you should, too. In fact, they’ve been rumored to be interested in a big free agent like Odell Beckham Jr. or a trade for DeAndre Hopkins. They showed rumored interest in Adam Thielen and Allen Lazard as well. What sets these pursuits apart, however, is that so far the Chiefs have come away empty-handed because they’re holding a firm line. No one in Arrowhead is desperate.

A team can only act like they’re not desperate if they aren’t. And maybe that’s because the Chiefs have already traded what they needed to get a guy they love to use because of his electric ability to score from absolutely anywhere on the field. In short, the Chiefs already have their No. 1 wide receiver after all.

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