The money quote from Kadarius Toney, after he apologized for a social-media firestorm fumble of his own making, came at the end of his interview session, when I asked him if he liked the spotlight here in New York.
“Do I like the spotlight in New York? I really kinda like it — it can either help you or harm you, it’s really what you want to do with it. So I mean, you gotta be smarter, make better decisions nowadays,” he said.
“It’s really y’all job to create whatever y’all gonna create out of whatever y’all want it to be out of, so from my standpoint, I’m just gonna go back to what I normally used to do, and not post at all to give y’all really nothing to talk about,” Toney said.
Look, it’s tough enough transitioning from college to the NFL on the field, and in Kadarius Toney’s case, trying to live up to the expectations of a first-round draft pick without calling unwanted attention to yourself and allowing the media and general public to interpret what you leave open to interpretation.
“It had nothing to do with the Giants,” Toney said.
Apology accepted, now from this point on, it should have everything to do with the Giants, and becoming the player they believe he can be.
The Giants could have drafted offensive tackle Rashawn Slater. When they traded down with the Bears and secured an extra 2022 first-round draft choice, they could have drafted Elijah Moore.
They drafted Kadarius Toney.
Because he can do amazing things with the ball in his hands.
We’re all waiting.
Giants fans are waiting, Joe Judge and the coaching staff are waiting,
It’s on Kadarius Toney from this point forward to show that the Giants didn’t get caught in the draft.
It’s on him now to prove that he can be much more than a gadget player.
He is a mere two games into his NFL career, but the résumé is not flattering:
Two catches, for minus-2 yards.
One in-game sideline conversation with Judge.
One cryptic Instagram message interpreted by most as frustration with his role that required a reminder from Judge that social media can tackle you in the open field if you’re not careful.
Judge swears by the rook’s work ethic and ambition. His teammates swear by his twitchy talent.
But this isn’t the SEC. Not everyone steps off the plane and knows what it takes to be a professional.
Kadarius Toney is hardly the only rookie who has endured growing pains.
Toney would be wise to seek counsel from Saquon Barkley, who was about as polished a rookie as you will find.
“I had great vets — [former Panthers and Giants running back] Jonathan Stewart was here, did a really good job of seeing the way he took care of his body and how he operated, Eli Manning, [former Giants DT Damon] ‘Snacks’ [Harrison],” Barkley said. “There were a lot of great vets that we had here, but for me I think with [former Penn State running backs] Coach [Charles] Huff and [Penn State] Coach [James] Franklin, they did a really good job when I was at Penn State and knowing my goals and knowing my dreams, what I want to do and what I want to accomplish, helping me and preparing me, getting me ready for the NFL. I think I’ve been doing a really good job of that so far on and off the field of handling being in New York, taking care of my body, handling ups, handling downs.
“I’ve only been in the NFL going on Year 4 right now, so there’s going to be more of that, too. I’m just going to stick to myself, be who I am and just go by that way.”
Toney loves football. That’s a good thing. He is a young man in a hurry to bring Giants fans to their feet. Asked if he would like to be used more, he smiled and said: “I feel pretty good where I’m at.”
Special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey was asked about using Toney as a returner, which has yet to materialize. Toney averaged 21.6 yards on seven kick returns at Florida in 2020 and 11.3 yards and a TD on 11 punt returns.
“He’s got a lot of things he’s working through on offense,” McGaughey said. “But he’ll be fine. When it’s time for him to get back there, he’ll be back there. It’ll come.”
The kid can’t wait for that day to come. A summer bout with COVID-19 slowed his development considerably. There was a nagging injury. There’s enough on his plate without having to address any Instagram elephant in his room.
“It really don’t sway me this way or that way,” Toney said, “‘cause at the end of the day, I still gotta come in, do my work, do my job, try to be the best player I can be. Be coachable by the coaches every day, so it don’t really affect nothing that I do.”
The TV cameras caught Judge having a sideline conversation with Toney during the Washington game. What did the coach tell him?
“Just stay encouraged, just stay locked in,” Toney said.
Stay locked in on football Sundays and give yourself a chance to be the player you expect yourself to be, the player the Giants drafted you to be, the player the fans yearn to see.
“An exciting one, I guess, that you all want to write about,”Toney said. “That’s what I’m aiming for.”
Here’s the good news: His aim can, and will, only get better.