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Why I like the decision to draft defender Shaka Toney

Could a move to LB be the next for this elite athlete?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 05 Penn State at Rutgers Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In the lead up to the draft, uber-athlete Micah Parsons sucked most of the oxygen out of the room when it came to discussing Penn State defenders. He was eventually taken at #12 by the Cowboys, and his passing rushing partner in crime, Jason Oweh, was taken #31 by the Ravens. But, a third, productive member of that Penn State defense fell, and fell, and fell, well through Day 3 of the draft. He fell so far his highly drafted teammate publicly wondered why:

He kept, somehow, falling until Washington’s second to last pick (#246) in the 7th round. My immediate reaction was one of shock, and even a bit of disappointment. I didn’t know much about Toney but I had read some mildly unfavorable things about his pass rushing ability in the lead up to the draft. Those criticisms, however, were really in the context of making Toney a Day 2 pick. It turns out, grabbing him in the 7th round may have been a coup.

Shortly after the pick was made, I went searching for whatever I could find on the young prospect. Was there some unique upside, like there had been with James Smith-Williams, taken in the 7th round last year? A freak athlete who comped, physically, to Ryan Kerrigan, but whose injury history had scared most teams off?

What I found astonished me. Toney was undersized (6’2”, 242 lbs) compared to his EDGE rushing peers, but his athleticism metrics were through the roof - like elite across the board.

And his video confirmed it.

So I went back to his draft profiles:

He appears to lack the every-down power or toughness to handle run duties on early downs and might find that athletic NFL tackles take away some of the advantages he enjoyed in college. Toney could find a home as a backup edge defender with designated pass rusher potential if he can improve his conversion rate in attacking the pocket. - Lance Zierlein

Toney’s challenge as an NFL prospect is a common one. If you’re able to stack some additional weight onto his frame, you may feel more comfortable with his every-down forecast. But if you do so, does it come at the expense of his dynamic quickness off the line of scrimmage and his flexibility to win around the edge? - Kyle Crabbs (Draft Network)

Easily taken from the action by a single blocker. Undersized for a defensive end and will be a liability against the run at the next level. He’ll be a situational pass rusher at the next level who must learn to play standing over tackle, and more than anything else, show up on every down. - Tony Pauline

So, it’s safe to say there’s a common theme there: Undersized, has to add more weight, which might slow him down, ceiling as a back-up EDGE defender. For a 7th round pick, that’s not an awful characterization. In fact, it’s probably a fairly common one. Guys who last this long are usually developmental prospects - at best - and might be lucky to have a niche role in the pros.

When I watch Toney play, however, that’s not what I see. I see a guy who is going to surprise a lot of people. But, I don’t think it’s going to be as an EDGE rusher. And I’m not alone.

So, I think Toney will become a SAM LB for us and be used some as an EDGE in nickle to spell Young/Sweat.

He did work out at the Senior Bowl as an Off-the-Ball LB, so I see that what he plays if he hopes to make the 53 man roster.

If he indeed does slot in at SAM, this is a really solid 7th round pick! - Mark Tyler

Poster Pengusagustus took Toney’s athleticism scores and ran them through RAS calculator against linebackers - as opposed to EDGE rushers - and his scored jumped to an astronomical 9.92. What does that mean in practical terms?

He scored a 9.92 Relative Athletic Score out of a possible 10.0. RAS is a composite metric on a 0 to 10 scale based on the average of all of the percentile for each of the metrics the player completed either at the Combine or pro day. This rated 17 out of 2156 LBs from 1987 to 2021.

He scored in the top 0.8% of linebackers of the past 30 years, and we just got him in the 7th round? Did Ron and Martin just commit highway robbery?

It reminded me of the exact opposite situation in 2017, when we took one of the least athletic linebackers in the draft, Ryan Anderson, in the second round. James Dorsett’s seminal, and prescient piece is still seared in my memory 4 years later:

Ryan Anderson is also not only one of the least agile and explosive edge rushers or linebackers in the league, he is probably, at the very least on a pound-per-pound basis, one of the worst overall athletes in the entire NFL.

All of this does not mean that Ryan Anderson cannot be an average player for the Washington Redskins. What it does mean is that the odds of him being a bust are much higher than the odds that he becomes a star. We can choose to ignore the facts and hope that our wishful thinking will magically somehow coax productivity into existence, or we can accept reality and temper our expectations.

Given that he was taken in the 7th round, I have no intention of tempering my expectations with Toney. I mean, can you remember the last time a Washington linebacker covered a tight end this closely?

Working behind Washington’s menacing defensive line, as an off-ball linebacker, Toney should be able to be kept relatively clean of offensive linemen, where he can utilize his speed to cover running backs out of the backfield and tight ends, or shoot the gaps opened up by Jon Allen and company to terrorize quarterbacks or snuff out run plays before they develop.

Linebacker was a clear area of need go into the draft, and first round pick Jamin Davis should help tremendously in that respect, but I think the 7th rounder, Toney, is ultimately going to end up being one of the most pleasant defensive (and special teams) surprises of the 2021 draft.

Poll

What are your expectations for Shaka Toney this year?

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    Won’t make the 53-man roster.
    (34 votes)
  • 12%
    Special teams contributor.
    (181 votes)
  • 57%
    Linebacking depth (and ST)
    (859 votes)
  • 28%
    2021’s Kam Curl
    (418 votes)
1492 votes total Vote Now