The Path to a WR1 Fantasy Football Season: Kadarius Toney
Editor’s Note: This profile is part of our annual Path to a Fantasy WR1 Season series. For our methodology and an outline of the process, make sure you read the 2023 Path to WR1 Series Primer. Find out the full statistical projections for the Footballers Consensus WR1s in the Ultimate Draft Kit.
Kadarius Toney is the perfect wide receiver for Patrick Mahomes. Outside of Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill, Mahomes never had another consistent fantasy scoring at the receiver position. Meanwhile, Toney is one of the most prolific talents in the NFL, but his body hates football, so he struggles to stay on the field consistently.
So, what does this combination create? Tantalizing possibility with a high likelihood of failure. Sounds perfect! The reality is that Toney has missed significant time in both of his professional seasons due to injury. Even in the games he has played, he has been inconsistent. But for some reason, the fantasy community can’t get that near 30-point explosion against Dallas in 2021 out of their minds. That game along with the eye test, which he passes every time he touches the ball, keeps Toney in the running as someone who could be extremely valuable. What would it take for him to get there?
Let’s start with a reminder of the average marks that a WR1 achieves per season over the last five years:
- Targets: 144.6
- Receptions: 97.4
- Receiving Yards: 1311
- TDs: 9.5
Targets and Receptions
He has never even sniffed anything close to anything resembling an elite target share. In 2021, he hit his highest mark with an astonishing 57 targets. That was his rookie season; as usual, he started off slow. He also missed seven games, but if you averaged him out the rest of that season, he gets close with 138 targets. I know, predicting that he will stay healthy for an entire 17-game season feels risky. Guess what? You’re right. Last year, Toney missed time again due to injury and missed time after he was traded to the Chiefs while he learned the playbook. He only had 20 targets last season while playing in nine games. That’s right, 20 targets.
It sounds like I am anti-Toney. I am not. I think Toney is one of the most apparent post-hype sleepers this season. It comes down to the simple fact that we have never seen Toney with a real offseason, a great offense, and a truly elite QB. All of those boxes check out for this upcoming year. Toney is the most talented pass catcher the Chiefs have, and yes, I am factoring in 33-year-old Travis Kelce. He needs the opportunity, which means he has to play, which has been a problem.
His low target numbers do not inspire confidence, but he has averaged a 74% catch rate on those targets. In 2021 on his 57 targets, he had 39 receptions; in 2022, he came up with 16 of his 20 targets. That shows he can deliver when utilized.
Factor in the news we keep hearing all offseason that the Chiefs’ system was complicated to learn last year. So, what happened after Toney got up to speed? He led the entire NFL in targets per route run! That’s right. From Week 9 through the Super Bowl, Toney led all wide receivers in targets-per-route run at 30.6%. How is that possible? He didn’t run that many routes, but when he did, he was targeted.
The Chiefs were designing plays to get Toney the ball. Maybe he couldn’t manage the general playbook, but they recognized his playmaking ability and knew they had to get him involved.
Yards Per Target
One of the knocks on Toney has been that he could become a gadget player for the Chiefs. His ability to produce yards after the catch is one of his greatest strengths. On ten of his receptions behind the line of scrimmage, he averaged 8.4 yards after the catch, which is very good. He isn’t sprinkling that into an average receiver YPT rate.
Over his short career, Toney has maintained 7.96 YPT. That is an average YPT marker that several elite wide receivers like Cooper Kupp, Tyreek Hill, and Stefon Diggs have fallen below some seasons. When you combine that value on his targets with his averaging 2.13 yards per route run over his career, you find a receiver with some elite traits.
Yards After Catch
Yards after catch is where we see the upside of what Toney can do on an NFL field. Over his career, Toney has been a YAC machine. In his rookie season, he averaged 4.2, and last year jumped to 6.8 YAC. That was 12th and 9th in the NFL, respectively.
Toney is so good with the ball in his hands because of his ability to utilize juke moves. In fact, he has maintained one of the highest juke rates in the NFL for two years in a row. That statistic is how often a player uses a juke move and evades a tackle. As an Eagles fan, I can sadly say Toney has one of the deadliest juke moves in the NFL. Just watch his huge punt return from the Super Bowl.
Watching Toney return that punt reminded me of a Chief from a few years back, Tyreek Hill. Remember when the Chiefs needed a momentum shift on special teams, so they would suddenly take their explosive YAC WR and let him return a punt? That is what they did with Toney.
I am not saying that Toney is the next Tyreek Hill. He is nowhere near as fast and has never been a deep-target player. However, he possesses the same ability Tyreek has where nothing is there, and yet he takes a low-value target, like a screen or a check down, and turns it into a big play.
The short answer comes down to usage. Toney needs to be used more and have more targets. The problem has always been health. Andy, Mike, and Jason always say it on the main show, “A player is injury prone, right up until he isn’t.” We only see that Toney is a ticking time bomb waiting for an injury. What happens if he stays healthy?
Look at Deebo Samuel. The running conversation around Deebo is, “Well, he is going to miss time.” The year he didn’t miss games, he finished as the WR2 on the season. Toney could be in the same situation.
If you look at our WR1 Primer again, it is hard to see where Toney has a path to reach those statistics because he hasn’t played enough football to find those raw numbers. However, projection-wise, he is as primed as anyone to leap this season.
The Chiefs throw the ball at one of the highest rates in the NFL. Over his career, Pat Mahomes averages 37.41 passing attempts per game. Let’s assume Toney is a full-time player this season as the most talented veteran in the receiving room. If Toney keeps his target rate, he would average 11 targets a game! Which would skyrocket him to 194 targets in 17 games. Again, I recognize that projecting Toney for an entire season sounds absurd right now, but two years ago, it sounded that way for Deebo, and then it happened.
If we say he misses just two games due to injury, Toney still ends up with 172 targets, and with his ability to catch the ball, he would have around 120 receptions for the season. That puts him well over the numbers for the primer. Does he need to score more touchdowns? Let’s visit the painful memory of the Super Bowl again. The Chiefs needed to score in the red zone. Andy Reid called for a pass to Kadarius Toney. Why? Because they trusted he would make the catch. We know the Chiefs throw the ball at one of the highest rates around the goal line, which means trusted guys will get opportunities to catch touchdowns. We know Toney is trusted, and we see what he can do in tight spaces because of his elite quickness, which should make him a prime target for touchdown upside.
Outside of health, he already hits the per-route metrics to reach the WR1 since he became a member of the Chiefs. Now Toney has an entire offseason to learn and integrate into the offense, and he walked out of the season moderately healthy. That hasn’t happened since he came into the NFL. Toney came in hurt, and he has been struggling ever since. If he can get his body right, there is a path for him to finish as a WR1.