Since the San Francisco 49ers’ move up to the third overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, much of the debate has focused on whether head coach Kyle Shanahan has a type at quarterback. There is increasing evidence, though, that he does have a type at wide receiver, and Florida star Kadarius Toney is a prospect in this class who clearly fits the mold.
According to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, the 49ers are due to hold a pre-draft meeting with Toney, indicating they are looking to improve their depth at receiver in the draft. Beyond starters Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel, the Niners lack proven options at the position, however, bringing in Toney would appear to be superfluous given he possesses a markedly similar skill set to that duo.
Toney is an athletically gifted receiver who can create separation with his lower-body agility and change of direction quickness and boasts the speed, elusiveness, and contact balance to rack up significant yardage after the catch. According to Pro Football Focus, Toney had a missed tackle per touch rate of 35 percent since 2018, the highest among draft-eligible receivers.
His prowess in the open field saw him develop into a dynamic weapon on screens and designed hand-offs out of the backfield, plays on which Samuel and Aiyuk have been heavily featured during their time with the Niners.
Shanahan clearly has an affinity for shifty receivers who can do damage after the catch and out of the backfield, the 49ers having met with another receiver of that ilk in Purdue’s Rondale Moore (h/t Niners Wire). Given Samuel’s influence on San Francisco’s run to Super Bowl LIV in the 2019 season, it is easy to see why.
There is a case to be made that, with Samuel and Aiyuk already on the depth chart, the 49ers would be better served pursuing a different type of receiver who can present defenses with a different challenge to the one posed by San Francisco’s starters.
Despite being utilized in a similar manner to that pair, Toney does offer the Niners something new. His speed saw him run the 40-yard dash in 4.38 seconds at his pro day and he could provide a downfield element that has often been lacking from the 49ers’ offense.
Toney shows an evident extra gear to get open over the top, his 23 receptions of 15+ yards from the slot second only to Amari Rodgers (25) in 2020, according to PFF.
While not as fast as Kansas City Chiefs star Tyreek Hill, between his twitchiness, his speed and his versatility, Toney has the skill set to make a similar kind of impact for the 49ers.
Viewed as a potential first-round receiver, there is a strong chance he may be out of their reach unless they make another aggressive trade.
But in a year where the 49ers’ offense might have to do much of the heavy lifting as their defense adapts to a new coordinator in DeMeco Ryans, San Francisco may be prepared to give up more capital to acquire Toney if they see him as a critical part of any future success.
The 49ers have made a significant investment in their new quarterback of the future by parting with several first-round picks to acquire him.
Regardless of the identity of that signal-caller, they need to put the weapons around him to ensure that move is vindicated. The added dimension Toney can offer San Francisco’s attack would be a substantial aid to any quarterback irrespective of experience and he appears to be in the conversation for a front office clearly unafraid to pay a premium to land its targets.