David Morris has trained Eli Manning and Daniel Jones. In an alternate universe, he may have worked with a third Giants quarterback – Kadarius Toney.
"He's told me Kadarius can throw it over 70 [yards] from his feet," Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy said on the Giants Huddle podcast about the founder of the Alabama-based QB Country. "I don't know about from the knee, but he said, he's like, 'Jim, I've really thought that if someone had given Kadarius a chance to play quarterback, he could have ended up being Lamar Jackson."
In the not too distant past, the wide receiver, recently selected by the Giants in the first round, finished his senior season at Blount High School with 2,894 yards and 32 touchdowns through the air in addition to 894 yards and 15 scores on the ground. Toney grew up in the shadow of the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., where Nagy has heard all the tall tales. They followed him to college in Gainesville, Fla.
"He was the most dynamic player on the field then," said Nagy, who was a scout for the Seattle Seahawks at the time when Toney was a true freshman at the University of Florida. "And this was a receiver group that had Van Jefferson and Tyrie Cleveland and Freddie Swain – all these guys that are playing in the NFL, so it's not like it was a group devoid of talent. I've been scouting Kadarius a long time."
Their paths crossed again at the annual all-star game for the nation's top outgoing seniors. A total of 106 picks, or 41 percent of the 2021 draft class, participated in the Senior Bowl. That rate was even greater for the Giants as four players – Toney, linebacker Elerson Smith (fourth round), and cornerbacks Aaron Robinson (third) and Rodarius Williams (sixth) – in their six-man draft class accepted invites to Mobile in January.
Toney "really put on a show" and was voted by the defensive backs as the top wide receiver on the American Team during the week of practices.
"He's a phenomenal athlete," Nagy said. "I thought he was the best change-of-direction athlete in the draft. I thought he was the second-most dynamic player in the draft behind Jaylen Waddle at Alabama, and that's pretty high praise because Jaylen's elite. Jaylen is going to be a great pro. It was a great pick for the Giants. I know that [Giants general manager] Dave Gettleman doesn't typically trade back, so when he traded back and then to get Kadarius, I thought that was great to stockpile picks for next year. … I really felt that Dave nailed the draft this year. I thought he did as good a job as anybody in the league at maneuvering around and adding pieces."
View photos of Giants first-round pick Kadarius Toney touring the Quest Diagnostics Training Center.
Gettleman said in his season-ending press conference that the goal was to add more playmakers to help Jones, a former Senior Bowl MVP, get over the hump as he enters his third season. In addition to signing WR Kenny Golladay and the return of RB Saquon Barkley (the first Giant to rush for 1,000 yards in his first two seasons), Toney will help the cause.
"What KT is going to bring to that offense I think is going to be great for Daniel Jones," Nagy said. "I'm excited to see Daniel's development in Year 3. Finally, a second year with the same coordinator and then you get a guy like Kadarius and you've got Saquon coming back, that's a really exciting offense to think about, what that's going to look like come September."
Specifically, Toney can help Jones get easy yards.
"[He's] a guy you can get it out quick to, and he can make yards," Nagy said. "He's really good with the ball in his hands. I know everyone is kind of looking for that. That's the new way of the receiver. Everyone is looking for that Deebo Samuel-type of player. What made Kadarius different from the other slots in this draft – the Elijah [Moores], the Rondale Moores – Kadarius is 5-11 ½. Rondale Moore was 5-7 and Elijah was 5-9 ½, so he's a bigger guy. He's 5-11 ½ and over 190 pounds. You can play him inside. You can play him outside. He can get open quick, so if Daniel gets in trouble, he's a guy that can uncover and you can get the ball out to and you can avoid sacks. They can be really creative with him. They can run a lot of jet sweep stuff. He's got such good lower body contact balance and power that you could line him up in the backfield and swing it to him. It's just how creative you can get with him. He's an awesome chess piece, and he's a guy that Daniel is going to get a lot of use out of this year."
Nagy added: "He's got as good a highlight reel as anyone in this class. Some of the stuff he does after contact, for a guy his size, it totally defies the measurables for sure. What Kadarius needs to learn to do sometimes is live for another day. He'll seek out contact. For a guy that can avoid it so much – because he can stick his foot in the dirt in terms of the ability to decelerate and slam on the brakes and make people miss and avoid – he has that and sometimes you watch him and he would just rather run over somebody. I think that speaks to his toughness and competitiveness. He's a pretty unique player just in terms of a physical substance standpoint. Some guys just have it, and some guys don't. There's a lot of guys Kadarius' size that get bounced around on contact quite a bit, and he doesn't. He powers through it. He's a pretty unique player."
Especially this year due to the pandemic, the importance of the Senior Bowl is as much about the face-to-face meetings with talent evaluators as it is about what happens on the field. Without a traditional NFL Scouting Combine, the Senior Bowl was the only opportunity for teams to meet prospects in person, albeit through plexiglass and from six feet away.
It was during one of these late-night meetings that the Giants awoke to Toney.
"I think everyone knows the wide receiver position can sometimes lend itself to being a little high maintenance, but KT was really low maintenance for us," Nagy said. "Being a Mobile guy, sometimes there are distractions for those guys that aren't for the other players. We had the bubble this year – family and friends really weren't allowed to enter the bubble – so that kept some distractions at a minimum. But in terms of our staff, he was the go-to guy for NFL Network, ESPN. All the media wanted a piece of Kadarius, and he was great with our PR staff and doing all that.
"He was great behind the scenes with his teammates. He's got a great energy about him. I think you'll love being around him. He just really has some juice to his personality, and I think that's what [Giants director of college scouting] Chris Pettit brought up in their interview. Here they were late at night after 11 o'clock and they had been through half the roster basically in terms of interviewing that team that night, and Kadarius comes in the very last interview and he's just wired up ready to go. The Giants had not only been through that process; so had Kadarius. He'd had a beatdown of about 15 teams before the Giants to interview with that night. That's who he is."
Now that he's checked all the boxes, how should the Giants use him on the field?
"Just move him around," Nagy said. "I wouldn't leave him in one place. He's got the speed to play outside. He's got the quickness to play inside, and then he's got all the other stuff – the change-of-direction, the make-miss ability to just run him on jet sweeps or those sorts of things. Keep getting the ball to him quick and let him make plays. He's just a guy you can do a lot with. I think he really opens up the playbook. I think they can be really creative with him. He gives them a different skillset than a guy like Golladay or even Sterling Shepard. I think they've got some really complementary pieces. To me, that's why I love the construction of this Giants offense because they're all very different."
That could all add up to a big year for Jones.
"I think the continuity of having a coordinator for two years will be big," said Nagy, who said it's also a league-wide problem to critique quarterbacks who have endured coaching changes. "Not only did they have a coordinator change last year, they had COVID, no off-season, he loses Saquon. Those aren't excuses to me; those are reasons. Those are reasons why Daniel didn't make that next year jump. We all know how smart Daniel is and competitive and how he works. When you have those intangibles and then everything else comes together, some continuity on the coaching side and better pieces around you with Golladay, Saquon coming back, Kadarius, and then some of the upgrades on the offensive line. They've gotten better on the offensive line since his rookie year, so he won't be getting hit as much. He'll know where to go with the football better. I would expect a big jump from Daniel this year, I really would."
Photos of Daniel Jones competing at the 2019 Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama