Welcome to the 20th installment of “The Mundies,” a column series that has meandered through my brain for the last 18 months. One that’s resulted in what I hope has been helpful insights, entertaining storytelling – showing that it’s OK to be honest, it’s OK not to be OK – and some useful fantasy football advice.
In a nutshell, that is the entire point of this series. And I very much appreciate everyone who has taken the time to read what my brain tells my fingers to type and the conversations that have been sparked.
To celebrate my 20th column, I am opting for the storytelling route with what will be a two-part series recounting one of the most epic and important experiences of my life.
Soon after the big bang, when the universe first began… just kidding, I’m not going back quite that far.
I was born in 1979. Being born on the “9” allows me to say weird things like “I’m in my early 40s, but I’ve been alive in six different decades.” I graduated from Timberline High School in Lacey, Wash. (same high school as Jonathan Stewart) in 1998.
Within my particular upbringing, the thing you did immediately after high school was go straight to college. I remember not considering any other options leading up to that point. You graduate high school and go to college; that’s just what you did.
Was I ready for college? In retrospect, probably not, but that was the path.
I realize the privilege embedded in this narrow path. My family had the means for me to attend college. I did receive some academic grant and scholarship assistance, and also built up my share of student loan debt, but the means and support from my parents was there, and I am very grateful for that.
Undergraduate college is kind of weird to me now. At the time, my thinking was, “I’m 18 years old, I’m going to college, I am a full-fledged adult.” Not so much.
Instead, I was academically bright, yet just another immature 18-year-old living on his own for the first time. I was amongst a sea of other 18-22 year-olds in the same situation, many of whom liked to fight for their right to party. I had no idea what to do with money other than spend it to try and have fun and feel good. For me, this time frame also lined up with the infant stages of my addiction.
If you have read many of my columns, I have touched on this topic before; my younger days of active addiction and horrible decision-making, the foundation of anxiety, self-consciousness and utter lack of self-esteem that fueled the intensity of that activeness, and some of my low points.
However, it is inaccurate and honestly, not mentally healthy to paint that entire portion of my life with the same negative self-reflective brush. This is a story about my life’s first and probably still greatest epic adventure. One that came about when I decided to take a chance and respond to a professor’s email and was an indirect result of me really having no clue what I wanted to do in college and beyond.
“You & Me Baby We Ain’t Nothing But Mammals”
My dad taught high school Biology and Botany for most of his teaching career. My sister majored in Biology at the University of Tennessee (go Vols!). I was always more interested in science and math during my pre-college education. I had no idea what I wanted to major in or what I wanted to “be” when I “grew up.” So I decided to follow what I knew best. I ended up majoring in Biology combined with Environmental Studies (but I only hug trees when it looks like they could use a hug). Lots of science, math, and data; probably not surprising to some of you that that’s where my brain led me.
When I actually applied myself, I did alright. You know, when I didn’t skip class because I was hungover or had pulled an “all-nighter” and then slept through the next day. (By the way, if you stay up all night studying and then miss your classes by sleeping through the day, that doesn’t count as an “all-nighter.” That’s just being nocturnal and missing a bunch of classes, but I digress.)
One of the requirements for graduation was to write a thesis on a relevant and approved topic of our choosing. You can probably guess how difficult it was for “Mr. Somebody Decide Everything For Me” to pick that topic.
But, through a series of events for which the connection was invisible to me at the time, I found myself with a borderline perfect option. One of my professors was smack dab in the middle of an ongoing, multi-year research project for her own career, and each summer she offered portions of that research to her students.
Basically, a handful of her undergraduate students would take on aspects of the overall study to assist her in completing the work while offering us students the opportunity to study abroad and generate our thesis from our piece of the research. Win-win.
Next Stop, Sweden
The research, involving a species of bee endemic only to Sweden, was located on a small island in the Baltic Sea connected to mainland Sweden by a land bridge. I jumped at the opportunity. And yes, a part of me was terrified and paranoid about traveling farther than I ever had with people I didn’t know very well. But it made way too much sense, even for that version of me.
My thesis research would be guided somewhat and structured for me. An opportunity to travel abroad for the first time outside of North America (I live approximately two hours from the Canadian border, so “international travel” isn’t quite the same in that regard).
So, in June of 2001, after a few months of preparing and training for the research, the itinerary was set when my junior year came to a close. The plan included the opportunity to add a bit of travel on each end of the main trip.
The first leg had me flying into London and spending a few nights in a hostel there, followed by another flight and another couple of nights in Stockholm, Sweden, before catching a bus for the long drive down to southeastern Sweden and my final destination at the research station.
Equally or probably even more terrifying for my parents – who were heavily involved with this plan – included the exact hostels I would stay at, loading my long-distance calling card up with enough money to check in (pre-cell phones, people) and helping me prepare for the excursion. My perfectly logical instructions included me checking in with them upon each new arrival in a new foreign city, assuring them I had safely made it to each location. The first flight was a red eye, Seattle to London, direct.
I boarded the plane ready to get some sleep, as arriving in a foreign country by myself on no sleep would not be ideal, right? The travel had begun. The plane’s wheels lifted off the runway and we ascended and headed due east. And everything went according to the well-laid plan. Right? Well, not so much.
To be continued in “Sweden (Part Two).”
And now, The Mundie Awards.
THE NEW ADVENTURE AWARD
Kadarius Toney (WR, New York Giants)
Speaking of a new adventure that I’m kind of scared of but at the same time see as a potential opportunity not to be passed up, New York Giants second-year WR Kadarius Toney has entered the room.
I remember joining the fray on Twitter in mocking the Giants selection of Toney in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. And not the predicting kind of mocking. The “what the hell” kind of mocking. Every March and April, I join a plethora of people who don’t specialize in rookie or draft analysis but are not shy about scoffing at certain picks with a confidence that doesn’t make sense based on said lack of credentials in the subject matter. I am guilty of this. And I did this with Toney.
To be fair with Toney specifically, the selection was also questioned by many in the industry who do spend massive chunks of time studying college football and rookie prospects. Analytically, Toney’s college profile was not impressive.
Among his fellow 2021 draft class WRs, Toney ranked middle-of-the-pack (at best) across a multitude of statistics, including targets per game, yards per game, Team Market Share (targets, receptions and receiving yards), Receiving Yards Per Team Pass Attempt, College Dominator Rating, Breakout Age and not being an early declare.
If you’ve seen the color-coded spreadsheets I produce, Toney had a lot of orange/red for a first-round pick. However, there were some green flags (opposite of red flags?) as well. Toney was top 10 in Yards Per Route Run and had the highest season Yards After Catch (YAC) Per Reception in the class by a significant margin.
And then there’s Toney’s speed/athleticism combine metrics:
• 40-yard dash: 4.38 (top five)
• Broad jump: 136.0 (first)
• Vertical jump: 39.5 (third)
• Relative Athletic Score (RAS): 9.0 (sixth)
Spending a majority of his time out of the slot – both in college and his NFL rookie year – Toney is a low Average Depth of Target (aDOT), low air yards, explosive receiver who is dynamic after the catch. The other college statistic that gets overlooked was Toney’s rushing, accumulating 580 rushing yards on 66 carries (8.8 Yards Per Carry [YPC]) during his four years at the University of Florida. Just get the ball in this man’s hands and he can do some damage.
Toney’s rookie year was marred by injuries which lead to only 49 catches on 57 targets for 420 yards and no TDs in 10 games. The Giants’ offense was a bit of a mess all season in 2021, but overall Toney’s rookie season was disappointing, injury or not. Except for Week 5.
Toney went completely off in Week 5 against the Cowboys for 10 catches on 13 targets for 189 yards. I’m not much of a film analyst, but I did watch this game and Toney was on fire. I don’t typically base much on a single game, but Toney “popped” in this game.
His athleticism, speed and explosiveness with the ball in his hands were on full display. One catch in particular is burned into my brain, where he came back for a pass between two defenders and set up his after-catch move as he snagged the ball.
Again, one play doesn’t typically mean much. But that catch and his performance in that game – regardless that neither Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton played that day – showed me his potential and what his ceiling might look like if he can stay on the field.
A casual look at the Week 6 box score also lacks context. Three catches on three targets for 36 yards. But like I said, Toney had my full attention at this point, and those three targets were immediately peppered Toney’s way as the game started. Then he got hurt. The Giants and Daniel Jones were focusing on getting the ball to Toney, and I think that will continue with a healthy Toney in 2022.
And why wouldn’t it? Jones is in a make-or-break year and Toney’s game involves shorter, quicker, high-percentage throws, which can be a QB’s best friend as long as the timing is there. And a healthy Saquon Barkley, regardless of what anyone thinks of his fantasy value, will keep the linebackers from cheating on play action or Run-Pass Option (RPO) plays.
There will be plenty of times where you’ll look at the halftime box score and Toney will be at three or four catches for 35 yards. I call it the “Jarvis Landry Effect.” But a YAC monster-in-waiting like Toney could take a short pass to the house at any moment, similar to Deebo Samuel.
According to ESPN, Toney is currently third on the depth chart behind Kenny Golladay and Sterling Shepard. Darius Slayton is there, and the Giants spent another relatively high draft pick on Wan’Dale Robinson. But I believe his draft price will reflect that in redraft formats, as he will be a somewhat forgotten name relative to the other top sophomore WRs: DeVonta Smith, Rashod Bateman and Elijah Moore.
JJ Zachariason recently released a podcast about ambiguous wide receiver groups, which means a team who doesn’t have a WR drafted in the first three rounds of fantasy drafts. The Giants will fit this definition. His study showed that mid-round WRs (drafted in rounds six-nine in 12-team leagues), especially second-year WRs, that are part of ambiguous WR groups (just like Toney) have historically had a relatively high “breakout rate,” meaning they outproduce the fantasy points you’d expect them to score based on their Average Draft Position (ADP).
I believe Toney will be a great value at the redraft ADP that we will see develop as the regular season approaches. Even with the hype I’ve provided in this column and my very favorable outlook for Toney, I’ll be the first to admit he could be quite the adventure, with a high risk/reward range of outcomes. And we don’t know yet if he can put together a healthy NFL season.
Pay attention to his ADP, as he’ll likely fall in a range where you want to be looking at still-unproven explosive players with a high ceiling potential.
It’s easy to recommend players who have already broken out. It’s much harder to be out in front of the breakout. Toney could pay off in a big way this year. So while it might feel like a red eye direct flight from Seattle to London to roll the dice on Toney – much like you’ll see in my next column about my experience in Sweden – I think it will be well worth the trip.
As I have moved toward more analytics-based fantasy football content, my goal is to provide that content in a manner that is as easy as possible to digest. Advanced analytics are beneficial, and I think they can be explained simply and logically. Please feel free to reach out to me on Twitter to explain more about any of the analytical concepts I present in these columns. My Direct Messages (DM)s are always open.
And as always, find me on Twitter, talking fantasy football, joking around, posting GIFs and lending my support where it’s needed @MunderDifflinFF.