The Giants selected a play-making wide receiver in the first round of Thursday night’s NFL Draft.
It just took a bit longer and wasn’t the one they originally wanted.
But after the Eagles leapfrogged them with a rare intra-division trade to select Heisman Trophy winner and the Giants’ initial target DeVonta Smith, they traded back from 11th overall to 20th, picking up three picks including a first-rounder in next year’s draft, and selected Kadarius Toney from Florida.
The selection gives them yet another weapon for Daniel Jones to prove himself in 2021 as the offseason continues to be focused on surrounding the quarterback with talent. Toney joins an ensemble that now includes free agent acquisitions Kenny Golladay, Kyle Rudloph and John Ross, retrurning players Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton and Evan Engram, and the expected-to-be-healthy Saquon Barkley.
"We’re thrilled to have Kadarius Toney," general manager Dave Gettleman said. "He is a big kid who can fly. He’s got really good hands, great run-after-catch skills. We’re thrilled to have him."
After a somewhat slow start to his career at Florida, Toney burst out in 2020 leading the Gators with 70 receptions for 984 yards while scoring 10 touchdowns, tied for seventh most in the FBS. He also contributed as a runner (19 carries, 161 yards, one touchdown) and returner (seven kick returns, 155 yards; 11 punt returns, 139 yards, one touchdown) in 11 starts. He was voted second-team All-American as an all-purpose player and was a finalist for the Paul Hornung Award as the most versatile performer in college football.
Toney is so versatile, in fact, that one of the players he compared himself to in the current NFL isn’t even a wide receiver but running back Alvin Kamara of the Saints.
"Quick, dynamic, explosive," was how he described Kamara and himself. He also named Packers receiver Deonta Adams as a comp and Giants director of college scouting Chris Pettit said there were some similarities to another Florida wide receiver of the past with similar speed and flexibility: Percy Harvin.
While the Giants had a first-round grade on Toney, he was not in the mix for them at 11. By the time they selected at 20, however, he was, the Giants said, the top player on their board.
As for the trade, it had become a running joke in NFL circles that Gettleman had never traded back in his career as a general manager. He said last week he’d had opportunities to do so but for various reasons those deals fell through. The most significant hurdle to the previous trades, he said, was the lack of return.
"I’m not getting fleeced," he said last week. "I refuse to do it."
So while Smith going to a division rival just ahead of them was disheartening, it added value to the Giants’ selection at 11 with two of the top five quarterbacks still available. They weren’t in the market for a quarterback, but plenty of other teams were. The Giants had conversations with the Bears during the week, and those led to the deal coming together once it became clear the pod of players the Giants were targeting at 11 would be gone by then.
The final parameters gave the Giants the Bears’ first- and fourth-round picks next year, plus their fifth-round pick later in this year’s draft. The Bears used the Giants’ 11th overall pick to select Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields.
"It was too good of an opportunity, it added too much value," Gettleman said of the package the Giants received, adding that it was "very important" to get the first-round pick in next year's draft. With so many unknowns in the 2021 class because of the lingering effects of the pandemic, the 2022 draft figures to be closer to what the NFL would consider normal.
Toney may be known for now as the wide receiver the Giants settled for after the one they wanted disappeared in front of them, but Pettit said he was "right up there" with Smith, Jaylen Waddle and Ja’Marr Chase, the consensus top three receivers in the draft. And while Toney said he never saw himself as anything less than a first-round pick, he’s not interested in living up to the receivers taken ahead of him.
"I don’t really like to compare myself to anybody," he said. "I just try to be the best version of myself that I can be."