When Tyke Tolbert, the Giants’ receivers coach, is teaching something and one of his young receivers struggles to remember a play, he immediately looks at rookie Kadarius Toney and says “K.T., help him out.” And he does, Tolbert said with a snap of his finger, “He’ll give an answer just like that.”
So it’s certainly not learning the playbook that’s keeping Toney off the field. And presumably it’s not talent, since the Giants thought he was good enough to draft in the first round. When they did, they thought he’d be an immediate spark on offense. They envisioned him as their kick returner, too.
Two weeks into his rookie season, though, he’s an afterthought on offense, hasn’t gotten a shot on returns, and has made much more noise with his Instagram posts than he has on the field. He’s played 24 snaps in two games and has touched the ball only twice. And it doesn’t sound like he’ll be doing much more this week.
So what’s the problem? What’s keeping the Giants from using their first-round pick?
What it sounds like, from talking to his coaches, is that his weird summer has left him far, and perhaps hopelessly, behind.
“Kadarius hasn’t played a lot of football for us, yet,” said Giants offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. “He missed the spring. He missed most of training camp. He practiced about three days before the season started. So he’s a young player who’s learning. (It’s) no fault of his. He’s just been hurt and been sick and has been dealing with some different things.”
Toney’s NFL career definitely has gotten off to a bit of a false start, beginning when he missed most of his first practice of rookie camp back in May because he apparently had the wrong shoe. He actually skipped most of the rest of the spring – a weird decision for a rookie that was never fully explained. Then he tested positive for COVID-19 right before training camp began, and when he returned to practice he battled a hamstring injury.
Now he’s dealing with an ankle injury, too, which was first revealed on the injury report on Thursday.
As a result of all that, he keeps falling further and further behind.
“He’ll be a piece of what we’re doing,” Garrett said. “(But) we have a lot of guys on offense that we like and we want to get the ball to. We were excited to draft Kadarius and we’re excited to have him on our team. We’re excited to play him. “But we’re excited about playing Evan Engram, Saquon Barkley, Kenny Golladay, and Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton and some of the other guys, too. Our guys are going to earn their opportunities.”
All of those guys are clearly priorities in the offense, far moreso than Toney. That’s why, before the opener, Garrett promised they’d be “specific and purposeful” with how they use Toney in a game.
But even that hasn’t happened. They ran him on an end-around and threw a short pass to him in the opener, both in the first quarter, and then they never used him again. And in his 19 plays against Washington last Thursday night, Toney never had the ball thrown his direction at all.
The really strange part, though, is that the Giants haven’t even given him a look yet as a return man – something he’d have time to do since he’s not being used on offense. Instead, they’ve been using receiver C.J. Board as their kick returner and safety Jabrill Peppers as their punt returner.
Asked when Toney will get his shot, special teams coach Thomas McGaughey didn’t sound like he was in any rush.
“At some point in time, when the opportunity presents itself, it’ll happen,” he said. “He’s got a lot of things he’s working through on the offense, but he’ll be fine. When it’s time for him to get back there, he’ll be back there, and he’ll make a play. It’ll come.”
It’s just all supposed to come faster for a first-round pick. At the very least, his opportunities should have been coming faster. When the Giants went into the draft in April they believed they were a team ready to be a playoff contender, that they just needed a few missing pieces. One big thing they were convinced they needed was offensive weapons.
So it just can’t possibly be that they used the 20th overall pick on a fourth receiver who might turn out to be the seventh option, at best, in the passing game and who won’t be given an opportunity on returns.
Of course, the Giants are preaching patience, as expected. Garrett even said that with rookie receivers “it takes them a little time to transition into the NFL.” That’s not really true anymore, though.
Rookie receivers have been lighting up the league often over the past decade. Two years ago, the Giants got 48 catches for 740 yards and eight touchdowns out of Darius Slayton as a rookie, and he was only a fifth-round pick. Sterling Shepard, a second-rounder, had 65 catches for 683 yards and eight touchdowns as a rookie.
The Giants last first-round receiver, of course, was Odell Beckham Jr. in 2014. And he had 91 catches for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns as a rookie despite missing three games.
No one is expecting Toney to be another Beckham, but shouldn’t he at least be another Shepard or Slayton? Or if not that, shouldn’t he at least be on the field for more than 18.5 percent (24 of 130) of the Giants’ offensive plays?
Said Garrett: “Our guys are going to earn their opportunities, earn their opportunities to get a jersey, to play and to get opportunities within the game.”
It didn’t sound like Toney had earned much more of an opportunity this week, and now his ankle injury probably set him back even further. When Tolbert was asked what more Toney could do, he responded “Being available to practice all the time would help.”
In Toney’s defense, Tolbert did say he the rookie spends a lot of time before and after practice getting extra work in with quarterback Daniel Jones. “And the more you can get with the quarterback, the more trust you’ll have,” Tolbert said.
What he doesn’t seem to have, at the moment, is the trust of the coaches. And it’s hard to know if he’ll be able to earn it anytime soon.
Toney, for his part said “I feel good where I’m at,” and despite his social media escapades – where he called the media “clowns” – he swears he’s not bothered by the criticism swirling around him. “I don’t really need justification from everybody about what I’m doing,” he said. “I understand what’s going on.”
So what is going on with Toney?
“I don’t really know what to tell you,” he said. “If you all don’t see the progression or whatever coming along by now, I guess you all won’t ever see it.”
That’s the worry, of course, that Toney is so buried in the Giants’ offense that the world won’t ever see why the Giants drafted him 20th overall – at least not anytime soon. Maybe he really will be a “piece” of the Giants’ offensive puzzle, as Garrett insisted. At the moment, it’s just not clear how or where that piece will fit.