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Can Shaka Toney Become Washington’s own Bruce Irvin?

NFL: Washington Football Team Rookie Minicamp Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

If you all remember, Bruce Irvin was an athletic freak coming out of West Virginia, who was selected in the first round (15th overall) by the Seattle Seahawks in the 2012 NFL Draft.

He measured in at 6’3” 245 pounds, with 33 3/8 inch arms prior to the draft. He ran the 40 yard dash in 4.50 seconds, had a 6.70 3-cone drill, jumped 10’3” in the broad and recorded a 33.5 inch vertical.

Irvin transferred to West Virginia after putting in two years in the junior college ranks. During his Junior and Senior seasons in Morgantown, he accumulated 61 total tackles (29 for a loss), 22.5 sacks and forced five fumbles.

Shaka Toney was an athletic freak coming out of Penn State this past draft. He was selected by Washington with the 246th pick in round seven.

Toney measured in at 6’2” 242 pounds with 33 inch arms. He ran the 40 yard dash in 4.51 seconds, had a 6.95 3-Cone, jumped 10’8” in the broad and recorded a 39 inch vertical.

After redshirting and seeing limited playing time as a Freshman at PSU, Toney’s final three seasons (2020 was just 8 games) saw him accumulate 94 total tackles (22.5 for a loss), 16.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.

Despite the lack of gaudy sack totals like Irvin put up at WVU, and the obvious discrepancy in where both players were drafted, these two look like clones of one another!

When Irvin arrived in Seattle, his body type was not one of an every-down NFL EDGE rusher. He was used some as a hybrid in the Seahawks 4-3 Under looks as a “LEO” (which is a walked-up SAM linebacker in an Under front), and as a situational EDGE. In 2013, he was permanently move to SAM in the Seahawks hybrid 4-3 - playing next to Bobby Wagner (MIKE), and K.J. Wright (WILL). He saw plenty of action as a Wide-9 situational pass rusher in nickel in Dan Quinn’s defense.

Irvin played four seasons (the team declined to pick up his fifth year option), with the Seahawks as a hybrid SAM outside linebacker, before signing as a free agent with the Oakland Raiders. Here is where things get interesting...

The Raiders head coach, Jack Del Rio, signed Irvin to play SAM linebacker, and he excelled at it for two and a half seasons, starting 38 of the 40 games he played there during his 29, 30 and 31 year old seasons. He was released eight games into his third year there, but during his time, he put up the best numbers of his career - averaging 57 total tackles and 7.5 sacks per year during his two full seasons.

Irvin spent eight games as part of the Falcons in 2018 after being released by the Raiders, before signing a one-year free agent contract with the Carolina Panthers in 2019. Those Carolina Panthers were coached guessed it - Ron Rivera!

Irvin started 12 of 13 games played as a hybrid outside linebacker/EDGE for Carolina, recording 36 total tackles (8 for a loss), and 8.5 sacks, with a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a safety. The 8.5 sacks was the highest in his nine year career.

Since the end of the college football season last year, I have projected Shaka Toney as a hybrid player in the NFL, as I knew he didn’t have the necessary size to be an every-down EDGE. He has always struggled to put on good weight during his time in Happy Valley, and I knew it would be no easy task at the next level. He played 2020 around 234-238 pounds, and although he came to his Pro Day weighing 242 pounds, he probably will end up playing around 238-240 as a rookie.

I always knew Toney was a good athlete (as I have seen testing numbers from PSU reported), but I didn’t realize just HOW fluid a mover he was until I saw him play some off-the-ball linebacker at the Senior Bowl and saw his movement skills from Penn State’s Pro Day. That is when I began adding him in the later portion of some of the mock drafts I posted to social media as a hybrid SAM in a 4-3 defense.

When Washington took him in the seventh round, my first thoughts were two-fold: 1)I immediately threw out the Bruce Irvin comp; and 2)I said he would be best utilized in that exact Irvin role as a 4-3 SAM in a “Under” look and as a hybrid nickel EDGE.

There is zero doubt we can use another explosive, athletic specimen as an off-the-ball linebacker. Ron Rivera has preached an infusion of youth and speed across the entire football team, and we saw that message come to fruition during both free agency and the draft this offseason. Pairing Toney at SAM (which is likely a 35% or less position in our defense), with the athletic freak that is fellow rookie linebacker Jamin Davis and Cole Holcomb, would give Del Rio’s unit one of the most athletic linebacker groups in the entire NFL. Now, you add in two dynamic EDGE rushers in Montez Sweat and Chase Young, to go along with Allen, Payne and Ioannidis, and I pray for any quarterback who lines up under center against this front seven.

It should be fun watching how Toney is used in this defense during training camp this August, and if my comp for him is correct, and knowing how both Del Rio and Rivera used Bruce Irvin when they had him on their respective football teams, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Shaka Toney goes down that same path here in Washington.


Where do you feel Shaka Toney fits best on this defense?

This poll is closed

  • 86%
    SAM Linebacker/Situational EDGE in nickel
    (1398 votes)
  • 7%
    Pure back-up EDGE rusher
    (126 votes)
  • 5%
    Special Teams only
    (90 votes)
1614 votes total Vote Now


Will Shaka Toney make the 53-Man roster?

This poll is closed

  • 90%
    (1387 votes)
  • 9%
    (140 votes)
1527 votes total Vote Now