On a defensive line featuring standout defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos and athletic freak of nature Jayson Oweh (who reportedly runs a 4.33 40-yard dash at 256 pounds), it would be easy to get lost in the shuffle. But for Shaka Toney, edge rusher for the Nittany Lions, it makes what he’s able to do even more impressive.
Toney finished second on the team behind Gross-Matos with 6.5 sacks and third behind Gross-Matos and linebacker Micah Parsons with eight tackles-for-loss. Could Toney have a Shareef Miller type of ascension in his final season and become a true three-down pass rusher?
Shaka Toney’s pass-rushing chops
In a league that’s moving further away from the big, powerful, and technical edge rushers that lack burst and bend in favor of the more athletic, high ceiling types, Toney should be a target for NFL front offices everywhere. He largely aligned on the left side of the Penn State defensive line, and it’s clear that he has the juice to threaten the arc.
Toney doesn’t have an outstanding first step, but it’s above average, and his next two steps are where he really puts the pressure on offensive tackles from his usual wide alignment.
He’s particularly effective when he’s able to use space to his advantage. His ability to change direction can be clunky at times, but when he gets his feet connected with the shimmy of his upper body he can get to the inside shoulder of an offensive tackle and track to the quarterback.
Toney’s straight-line speed also helps when he’s tasked with looping to the interior on pass rushes. He plays too high too often, which hinders his ability to break down and finish against quarterbacks aware of his presence.
Where does Toney really shine?
There are a few things Toney does particularly well as a pass rusher. He rarely gets shoved too far up the arc and completely out of his rush angle. He does a good job of squeezing down and really softening the angle down even when he doesn’t flat out win, which keeps the quarterback from escaping outright.
Shaka Toney(#18) comes flying off the edge, catching left tackle Blaise Andries(#77) by surprise. pic.twitter.com/ewZM8m3pov
— Nick Price (@PriceCheck3) May 12, 2020
This is the most intriguing part of his game, and we, unfortunately, don’t get to see it enough. He doesn’t often line up on the quarterback’s blindside. On this rep, and during a few other times during games viewed, he pulled out some speed-to-power.
It’s an effective plan of attack for him, as he was able to collapse the pocket on each rep, which could partially be due to the surprise of pulling this rabbit out of his hat. But when it works this well, it would be nice to see more often. But the few times he attempted to stick his inside arm into the breastplate of offensive tackles on the opposite side he was stifled.
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On the left side of the defense, he prefers a chop and dip with his inside arm. The issue is, that’s just about all we see snap in and snap out. He consistently tries to attack the arc and chop down, but it’s unfortunately not a particularly effective move.
Too often there’s both not enough violence in the chop and the accuracy is off. But the worst part about it is he often gets his hips caught flat upfield, which forced him to stop in his tracks and lose the rep. He must become more nuanced with his hands if he wants to become a legitimate pass rush threat at the next level.
Shaka Toney’s 2021 NFL Draft outlook
Toney definitely has the natural strength to be a three-down edge defender, but he must become more consistent keeping his distance from blockers and recognizing blocking schemes. Misdirection causes struggles for Toney and he can become passive against tight ends in the run game.
But on the other side of the coin, there are a few examples of him planting a foot in the dirt and standing up against double teams. He also has room to grow, and it might do him some good to add a bit of mass and strength to his frame.
There are also times where he seems to be out of place. It can be difficult to recognize just who is supposed to be where in the run fit, but far too often he can be seen getting hooked by blockers, allowing the runner to scamper to the numbers and the sideline.
If he can work to become a more gap sound and technical run defender and add on top of that a more developed pass rush repertoire, then he could be a fun rotational right defensive end or rush linebacker at the next level. But until then, we’re betting on the upside of a good athlete to “get it.”