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Kadarius Toney emerges as Giants' triple threat

Giants wide receiver Kadarius Toney (89) escapes tackle

Giants wide receiver Kadarius Toney (89) escapes tackle attempts by Dallas Cowboys' Anthony Brown (30) and safety Malik Hooker, bottom right, as Toney gains long yardage after a catch in the first half of an NFL football game in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021. Credit: AP/Michael Ainsworth

While extolling Daniel Jones’ ability to run with the ball and create positives for the team, and suggesting he would not hesitate to call those runs as the quarterback returns from the concussion protocol one week after he was carted off the field in Dallas, Jason Garrett added a line that stood out regarding such a philosophy.

"We have other guys who can make plays for us," the offensive coordinator said.

One in particular.

In very short order, Kadarius Toney has become one of the most electrifying and versatile players the Giants have had in a very long time. Given the state of the injuries on their offense, with Saquon Barkley and Kenny Golladay sidelined and Jones returning a week after his concussion, Toney very well may be the team’s best option as a running back, mobile quarterback and, yes, his actual position at receiver when they face the Rams on Sunday.

The Giants gave a few glimpses of that diversity in the past two weeks. Against the Saints, they tried to have Toney throw a pass, but he was so disciplined as a quarterback that he recognized the play wasn’t there and pulled the ball down and ran. Last week against Dallas, they had him in the middle of a double screen pass, attempting a throw across the field to running back Devontae Booker that fell incomplete. In the fourth quarter, when they had a chance to close the gap to a single score with Jones long removed from the game, they lined Toney up for a direct snap and had him try to score a touchdown.

He has yet to hit it big on any of those gadget plays, but the fact that the Giants keep returning to them — and in key situations — indicates their faith that they will pay off very soon. The way they talk about it also portends their giddiness over what he can provide an offense that is often disparaged as too vanilla and too predictable.

"I've coached a guy before him that kind of wears some of the same hats as his, and they're very fun to coach," Joe Judge said, a reference that seems to be to former Patriots receiver Julian Edelman. "It gives you some multiples you can work with. It gives you a lot of creativity. He's not afraid to try new things, either, which is good."

"Obviously, he’s a very dangerous athlete," Garrett said. "We’ve seen him in a short period of time do a lot of different things. He’s dynamic with the ball in his hands and he has a quarterback background [as an All-State player in high school in Alabama], so he seems very comfortable doing those things. I think he’s proving that when you get the ball in his hands, he can do some real positive things for you. That’s just another way to do that."

­Toney has been super-impressive as a receiver. He caught 10 passes for 189 yards in Sunday’s loss to the Cowboys and likely would have topped 200 had he not been ejected midway through the fourth quarter for throwing a punch. Only five rookies in NFL history have had at least 10 catches for 185 or more yards in a game.

Over the past two weeks, Toney has a combined 267 receiving yards. Only the Packers' Davante Adams has a higher total in that time with 270.

Most of those yards have come on shorter passes that Toney has a knack for turning into long, darting, zig-zagging gains. According to Zebra Technologies’ NextGen NFL Stats, Toney averaged 9.5 yards after the catch in the Dallas game and 4.1 yards after contact. Pro Football Focus has him forcing a league-high eight missed tackles in the last two games.

"The thing I always say about Toney that I think a lot of people don't realize is how strong he is and how powerful a runner he is," Judge said. "It shows up in terms of the extended runs and breaking tackles, but he has great instincts. He has really good vision on the field of seeing where there's an open space, no matter how small it is."

Even veterans who have played in the league for years marvel at his ability to elude tacklers, and sometimes they get caught staring.

"He caught the ball when I was in the game and I saw him make a couple of guys miss, and I’m sitting there, and I’m like, ‘I need to be blocking somebody!’ " Sterling Shepard said. "He’s electric with the ball. You get the ball in his hands and he’s going to make something special happen."

Teammates are just as impressed with his passing abilities.

"He can do it all," backup quarterback Mike Glennon said. "I saw him in warm-ups in the preseason throwing the ball like 70 yards. He can spin it. I think it’s exciting to see him back there."

"Maybe the biggest thing that really helps him, more so than the physical attributes, is how intelligent he is on the field," Judge said. "We always say: ‘He speaks ball.’ He knows multiple positions. He knows the concept of what’s going on. You can bump him from one position to another on the fly and he doesn't hesitate. He just jumps right in and executes correctly. This is a guy that really learns the big picture of the game. Football is something that comes naturally to him, but he works extremely hard at it."

That’s something Toney had to prove to the Giants — and critics — upon his arrival in New York: his devotion to the game. It came into further question when he skipped spring workouts and was sidelined by injuries and a serious bout of COVID-19 in the summer. He also has other pursuits, such as a burgeoning music career (his rap name is Yung Joka), that sometimes overlap with football on his social media presences, giving the impression that his attentions are divided.

Not so, say the Giants.

"When you’re up close with him and you see him in these situations time and time again, it’s certainly been impressive," Garrett said. "The best players I’ve been around have that. They have that stuff inside of them. They compete, they scratch, they claw. And he’s showing that beyond just his playmaking ability."

Joka’s wild!

The easy part of having Jones in the concussion protocol for most of this week is that the Giants didn’t have to make many decisions about their quarterback’s health. There are clearly defined steps and a process that needs to be followed and an independent neurologist who gives the final approval. As Judge said of Jones’ pathway back to the field: "It’s out of our hands."

Now that Jones has completed the route and is cleared to return for Sunday’s game against the Rams, though, all of the power goes back to the Giants. They have to make the decisions about when and how to use Jones both from a football standpoint and an ethical one. Garrett has said that if Jones was able to play, there theoretically would be no limitations on him in the playbook.

Having Toney available, though, gives the Giants more options and should help Jones avoid any setbacks.

Toney has emerged as this triple-threat player for the Giants after a decidedly slow start to his season. Might the Giants have been in better position in the standings if they had better harnessed his abilities in the first three games in which they lost and he had a combined four touches, including none in the one-point loss to Washington?

"It was a function of missing all that time," Garrett said of Toney’s role in the first games. "He missed all the time in the spring and then really virtually all throughout training camp. He practiced for about three days before that first game, so we had talked about it . . . You’re optimistic when you draft a player that high that he has everything that you want, but until you see it, see it in a practice setting and in a game setting, it’s never really verified."

Now, it seems, Toney has the little blue check next to his name on the Giants’ call sheet.

Just in time to help replace Barkley and Golladay and, perhaps more importantly, ease the burden on Jones.

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