Jordan McPherson/SEC Country
Florida's Kadarius Toney flashed his playmaking abilities as a receiver and wildcat rusher in his first season.

Florida’s Kadarius Toney should be key for Dan Mullen’s offense however he’s used

Ryan Young

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New Florida coach Dan Mullen has to figure out his quarterback situation for 2018, of course, but there’s legitimate optimism that the mere switch to his spread offense will get more out of the Gators’ skill-position talent than the previous regime did.

As Mullen told Tim Tebow on SEC Nation on Saturday, he will adjust to his personnel as needed, but a core tenet of his approach is to make the opposing team defend sideline to sideline and get his best playmakers in 1-on-1 matchups either downfield or with the ball in space.

The latter part, if executed, bodes especially promising for rising sophomore Kadarius Toney, who showed impressive elusiveness, vision and burst in spurts during his debut season.

Already a fan favorite, many are wondering how he fits into Mullen’s offense next fall. Thus, the latest Gators Mailbag Question of the Day:

Thomas F. asks … “Do you think Mullen keeps the Wildcat option for Toney? Or where do you see Toney playing in his offense? QB maybe?”

It’s an interesting question because Mullen never really had a Swiss-army-knife, jack-of-all-trades player like Toney in his nine seasons at Mississippi State, so there’s no obvious comparison from those teams.

As the new coaching staff evaluates what it has on offense and especially at quarterback, it’s too early to really cross any option off the board, but I’d be surprised if Mullen projected Toney as a QB.

Yes, Toney was a successful dual-threat QB at Blount High School near Mobile, Ala., and stayed at the position through his first spring practice with the Gators, but he was moved to receiver for two reasons. One, he was buried down the depth chart and the coaches didn’t want to waste his athleticism. But two, he looked inconsistent and erratic as a passer, at least in the portions of practice open to reporters.

Yes, he has an arm. He showed it with a 50-yard wide receiver pass to Tyrie Cleveland this season, but he also threw low and incomplete on a screen on his other passing attempt. That was reflective of what he showed in the spring.

Yes, Mullen has had his most success with dual-threat QBs and Florida doesn’t appear to have one on the roster presently, unless Malik Zaire decides to petition the NCAA for an extra year due to his lost 2015 season at Notre Dame. But Toney is listed at 5-11, 194 pounds, which is much smaller than Mullen’s typical QBs.

His first quarterback at Mississippi State, Tyson Lee, was of similar build at 5-foot-10 and about 200 pounds, and Mullen also inherited Chris Leak (6-foot, 210 pounds) when he took over as the offensive coordinator at Florida in 2005. Otherwise, he has preferred taller, larger quarterbacks.

It can’t be ruled out completely, but I have to imagine Mullen will scroll through a number of other options before considering Toney. And that’s also due in part to what Toney can bring in an expanded role at receiver.

I think it’s most likely Mullen finds more ways to get Toney the ball in space and let him shimmy, shake and spin his way to big gains while also getting his share of carries, be they on jet sweeps or wildcat looks, etc.

That said, the most apt comparison may well be Percy Harvin, who was 5-foot-11 and 192 pounds coming out of Florida. Granted, Toney has a ton to prove before that’s really a fair comparison, but perhaps the way Harvin was utilized during Mullen’s tenure as offensive coordinator of the Gators provides some clues.

Harvin produced nearly equal rushing and receiving yards in each of his three seasons at Florida from 2006-08, punishing teams with his speed and athleticism in every which way.

It’s not hard to see Toney having a similarly versatile role and a breakout season in that same offensive scheme next fall, which may be yet another reason why his future is not at quarterback.

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