Kadarius Toney and the potential curse of great expectations

The third year Chiefs wideout has become quite the popular punching bag in Chiefs Kingdom this season, but did we even have the correct expectation to begin with?

Philadelphia Eagles v Kansas City Chiefs
Philadelphia Eagles v Kansas City Chiefs / Perry Knotts/GettyImages

Kadarius Toney did it again. No, I'm not referring to a repeat performance of the good he's brought to the Chiefs roster in just over a season. I'm talking about the bad things, specifically issues with drops that lead to interceptions and frustrate certain All-World quarterbacks. This is getting old, isn't it? Wasn't this guy supposed to be the "number 1" target that most of us thought Mahomes might be lacking coming into this season? The vote of confidence that Brett Veach handed out certainly persuaded some into believing this.

So where is this all going wrong, and how did we get from "Kadarius Toney: Super Bowl hero" to "Kadarius Toney: Cut this guy"? The answer lies somewhere between expectation, execution, and mounting pressure on a guy who is 24 and only in his third year in the NFL.

The trade for Toney last season was certainly exciting, something that roused the senses in Chiefs Kingdom amid the absence of Tyreek Hill and yet another underwhelming (and injury-riddled) season for Mecole Hardman. Maybe we got our gadget back with Toney, or maybe he would be a tool that could unlock some of the high-flying fireworks we were used to seeing from the Chiefs offense. After all, they had been effective to that point in 2022, but a lot of the over-the-top deep balls we had become accustomed to seeing had transformed into over-the-middle or dink-and-dunk plays that led to more methodical drives featuring JuJu Smith-Schuster and Travis Kelce.

The third year Chiefs wideout has become quite the popular punching bag in Chiefs Kingdom this season, but did we even have the correct expectation to begin with?

Maybe Toney would be the guy to add that element of safety-influencing speed that would allow Kelce to become even more of a threat. Even if opposing defenses still keyed on Kelce (as they have) Toney would make them pay for it, right? Well, so far we know how that has gone. Outside of a couple of good games and one very big performance in Super Bowl 57, the Kadarius Toney experiment has left much to be desired. To this point, anyway.

This has to be a Kadarius Toney problem, right? He's just not the guy. He's not as talented as we thought he was. Maybe at the root of it, Kadarius Toney is the problem child that the New York Giants were willing to ship off for a sixth-round pick after just a season and a half. A malcontent who doesn't have the tools to make it in the NFL. Maybe. But, maybe we're all selling this kid way too short and dogpiling pressure that is delaying his development.

Toney was not some five-star prospect when he signed with Florida. He was a consensus three-star recruit, the 40th ranked all-purpose athlete in the country, and 27th overall in the state of Alabama. He has solid offers but he didn't have Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney in the living room bending his ear to come be an All-American at Alabama or Clemson when they were at the heights of their respective dominance. At Florida, Toney was largely a backup Swiss Army knife-type player. He played receiver, running back, and wildcat quarterback. It wasn't until his senior season in Gainesville in 2020 that he broke out to the tune of 70 receptions and 960+ yards, earning First Team All-SEC honors and Second Team All-America.

Then, the New York Giants drafted him. Not the Brian Daboll Giants who are getting back to a point of respectability. We're talking about the Joe Judge Giants. The 4-13, fired their coach and GM at the end of the season New York Giants. The no Saquon New York Giants. In not so many words, a hopeless team where motivation was scarce, if hope existed at all. The Giants were in a state of perpetual disarray with Toney, so it's no shock that no one in that franchise at that time could get through to him.

So, along came the trade and with it the expectations associated with now being a member of the highest-achieving franchise in the current NFL. Andy Reid has notoriously high standards for his players, and Toney plugged in well in a limited role for a 2022 Chiefs team that would end up on the top of the mountain once again, largely to the contributions of one Kadarius Toney. But if the expectations and pressure that goes along with that were high when he arrived, they would ratchet up even more going into Year 2 as defending Super Bowl champions.

2023 has been rough for Toney, no doubt. But are we judging him through the correct lens? He is still only 24 years old and has never been in a situation like this in his life—thrust into the grandest stage on football's best team with the expectation to be their top receiving target. Some would call it an opportunity, sure, but you cannot ignore the pressure that comes along with it. Not every player has an iron-clad mentality when it comes to ignoring outside noise. Nearly no one can completely shut it out.

Much of what fueled the hype surrounding Toney this year was generated by Veach's comments in the offseason when many fans were clamoring for the Chiefs to go get Deandre Hopkins when he was available, especially once he was a free agent. But we have to take some context in the quote where Veach says, "I don't know if there's a limit on his game". That's still true today. Toney has had more downs than ups in 2023, no one can deny that. You can look at that two ways: 1.) either he's a bust with the Chiefs and maybe a bust overall, or 2.) the best is yet to come.

If the second sentiment is true, we need to remember that the guy is working his ass off to be the player that we all expect him to be. Criticism is fair, and I'm certain that Reid, Patrick Mahomes, and the offensive coaching staff have expressed their concerns and given their advice in ways that they see fit, but additional outside pressure from media and the fanbase is not something that's going to be constructive in any way.

At 24, I had next to nothing figured out in life. Many of you can say the same. Let's allow Kadarius Toney breathe a little bit, and if the ship begins to sail a little more smoothly, he could be the hero the team needs down the stretch in pursuit of another Super Bowl.