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NFL Draft

NFL Draft Would You Rather: Amari Rodgers vs Kadarius Toney

  • The Draft Network
  • March 19, 2021
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One of the most challenging dynamics for the NFL draft process is to find the right combinations of picks to pursue. There's very often little guesswork in identifying athleticism on tape and teams will always have a firm gauge on which positions they'll look to prioritize on any given year. But what happens when you have players within the same "subsection" of a position, particularly when the two players are coveted in different areas of the draft. A great example of this is 2021 wide receiver prospects Kadarius Toney and Amari Rodgers.

Toney is, according to Benjamin Robinson's 'Grinding The Mocks' project, facing an expected draft position near the No. 32 overall pick in next month's 2021 NFL Draft. There's plenty to like. Toney is twitched up, he saw a big leap in play in 2020 and was a standout at the lone NFL draft event in this year's process, the 2021 Senior Bowl. Toney will be a fringe first-round pick when things are all said and done and if he hasn't already started a collection to commemorate all of the ankles he broke at Florida, he may want to start before he gets too deep into a pro career.

But I'd ask you to hold him up against Clemson's Amari Rodgers, who is expected to fall outside of the top-100 picks according to the 'Grinding The Mocks' project. I don't buy that, personally, but regardless he's still expected to go behind Toney in the draft order by a significant and comfortable margin. To which I ask a simple question: why? And if that is indeed the case, why would you spend the first-round selection on Toney when you can find such a comparable player (supposedly) a round or two later?

It isn't as though Toney holds a clear advantage in production. Both logged their first career 1,000-yard seasons from scrimmage in 2020:

  • Rodgers: 1,020 receiving yards and seven touchdowns in 2021; with a grand total of 181 receptions, 2,144 yards, 15 touchdowns plus an additional six carries for 46 yards, and an extra score in his four-year career.
  • Toney: 984 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns plus 19 carries for 161 rushing yards and an extra score in 2021; with a grand total of 120 receptions, 1,590 receiving yards, plus 580 yards on the ground, and 14 total scores in his four-year career. 

The advantage in production goes to Rodgers, even when extending to some more specific metrics of play specific to 2020. Pro Football Focus credited Rodgers and Toney with the two most 15-plus yard receptions from the slot in all of college football last season. Rodgers had two more (25) than Toney. The most missed tackles forced on screen passes among the Power 5 receivers? Rodgers (8) and Toney (7). Both were also in the top four of college receivers in receptions with 10-plus yards after the catch. Rodgers had six more than Toney:

Given both players' style of play as high-traffic players who must be willing to work the middle of the field to find the best results, Rodgers sports a better build, too. Rodgers checked in at the Senior Bowl at 5-foot-9.5 and 211 pounds with 9.50-inch hands. Toney was taller (5-foot-11) and significantly leaner at 189 pounds.

These factors help Rodgers build a compelling case, but it is all meaningless if the film doesn't help to back up the suggestion that you'd be wise to pass on Toney to get Rodgers later. And yet I would, because the film absolutely shows a player that is capable of winning in many of the same ways.

If you hold up most of the critical components of the wide receiver position, such as their release package, fullness of their route trees, and more, I would venture to say that Rodgers is equal in his footing to Toney. In some areas, such as his hands and catch radius, I would even give Rodgers the edge in a head-to-head comparison.

Rodgers doesn't have the same highlight reel as Toney, which is stuffed to the brim with jukes and shakes and releases that look like something out of an And1 mixtape. Perhaps that is a large part why as to why Toney is the favored player by so many. Indeed, I do have Toney graded as the higher player myself, but the discrepancy is marginal (an 83.50 final grade for Toney versus an 81.50 for Rodgers) and, in my eyes, a lot closer than some may feel—especially when you're projecting both to a similar role within an NFL offense. Toney's lateral agility, flexibility, and steep cuts are enough for me to concede he has a higher ceiling as a player than Rodgers, but you certainly wouldn't catch me drafting Toney in the late 20s if I feel I can get Rodgers 30 or more picks later in the draft.

Rodgers is more of a bowling ball player and helped his stock and perception quite a bit after running a 4.45s 40-yard dash at his Pro Day earlier this month. Some of the explosiveness we were worried Rodgers lost back in 2019 after a knee injury in the spring? It's back.

So as I hold these two players up against one another and compare their complete resumes, I wouldn't blame you if you drafted Toney in the first round. It wouldn't necessarily be undeserved. But I'd be more than happy to draft 95% of the same exact player in Rodgers—in a frame that will be even more well-suited for crashing through traffic in the middle of the field. Getting him a full round or so later makes that decision a no brainer for me.

Head to head, I will readily admit I value Toney as the better prospect due to just how elite his suddenness is. But in a real-life application of making a decision on draft night? I'm more than ready to move a different direction early on in the draft knowing I can get so many of the same things out of Rodgers on Day 2 that you'll get out of a first-round investment into Toney.

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