7.48, 255: Timothy Toone, Weber State WR
About seven seconds into my research on Toone, I knew what we were in for. That catchy, alliterative name, plus a phonically germane nickname: “Tarzan.” Those incredible, flowing, straw-colored dreadlocks. His tiny FCS Utah school. His blazing speed, his special-teams prowess, and his legendary work ethic. Of course, his coveted “Mister Irrelevant” status as the final pick in the 2010 draft. All the elements are there, all the pieces are in place. Tim Toone is a mortal lock to be this year’s marquee inductee into the Lions Fan Hall of Fame. Immediately, my words from last year about Zack Follett came rushing back to me:
Zach Follett is going to be the next inductee into the Lions Fan Hall of Fame. Players like David Kircus, Scotty Anderson, Casey Fitzsimmons, David "Blue" Adams, Greg Blue, and Buster Davis have been drafted late (or signed as a UFA) by the Lions, made a big play or two in training camp or preseason, and become cult heroes--often, with fans insisting that these practice squadders and/or bench riders would be immediate upgrades over the current starters, if only they were given the opportunity. Zack Follett perfectly fits this profile; I have no doubt we'll be seeing Follett jerseys in the stands sooner rather than later.
The only way he could be any more perfectly qualified would be to have played at GVSU, or come up through the Detroit Public Schools system. Unfortunately, Toone hails from from Peoria, Arizona—where, despite being first-team All-State as a senior, he was unknown to Scout.com, and an unranked one-star recruit at Rivals.com. His senior year, he caught 37 balls for 1,125 yards, setting an all-time state record for YpC with 30.4. Thirty. Point. Four. Yards. Per. Catch. I love me some high school statistics.
Timonthy “Tarzan” Toone redshirted (and paid his own way) his first year at Weber State, then served his two-year Mormon mission in Ghana and the Ivory Coast. NFL Draft Blitz asked Toone about that mission, in one of the most desperate and war-torn regions on Earth:
It was difficult, but it helped me grow up. It made me more responsible. I had life goals after I came back from the mission. I knew how to work hard towards those goals.
Work hard he did, immediately making an impact as a deep threat. He had seven catches for 275 yards (39.3 YpC). Nine games in, he took over as punt returner, and in his first game he took a punt back 61 yards to the house.
As a redshirt sophomore, he was the team’s second-leading receiver, with 32 catches for 698 yards (21.81 YpC) and 10 TDs, tying the school’s single-season receiving TD record. Toone was named Honorable Mention All-Big Sky conference that year, but it was only a hint of what was to come. Over the next two seasons, Toole became the Wildcats' primary offensive threat: over the next two seasons, he averaged 83.5 catches, 1,314.5 yards, and 8.5 TDs--and was first-team All-Big Sky Conference in both seasons.
How does all that small-school success translate to the big time? Sports Illustrated grades Toone as a 2.05, a practice-squadder. Most of the information I can find agrees: at Weber State, Toone’s calling card was his blazing speed, but that speed is merely adequate at the next level. However, his technique, his willingness to go across the middle, his hands in traffic, routes, body control, they all grade very well. His lack of typical deep-threat size (5’-11”, 170 pounds) means that though he put up outlandish, ridiculous YpC numbers in college, he projects to the NFL as a sneaky, second-level possession receiver—one who’s very dangerous after the catch.
As for character . . . well, Toone grades highest of all in that category. Here’s a great ESPN TV interview of Toone, where they closed it out by asking how he’d apply the lessons learned in west Africa to his life in the NFL:
It's for Detroit, the team is for Detroit. To try to help them out, and do everything I can to make that city proud, and happy to be a Detroit Lions fan.
It’s not just his off-the-field exploits that show great character and work ethic. Here’s a little piece from the Deseret News, telling how Toone punished himself for loafing after an eight-catch, 135 yard, 2 TD performance that won his team the game:
I just was not playing like I usually do, so I had to go in there [the up-down circle]. I felt like I didn't block and do all that I needed to do, all the little things that count. Maybe if I would have blocked a little more, some big plays would have sprung and we wouldn't have been in that situation [to need a last-minute touchdown].
Well, enough of that nonsense; let’s get to what really matters; the only true oracle of NFL success: YouTube highlight reels!
Subjectively, it’s hard not to love the hell out of this kid. Like I said, all the indicators, all the effort, all the character in the world. Looking at these clips, he’s obviously in a class by himself on this field, but his speed is far from breathtaking. However, his hands, routes, football sense, and open-field ability will certainly give him the inside track on impressing the coaches over, say Derrick Williams.
In fact, that's how I’d say Toone projects: as Derrick Williams’ replacement, if Williams doesn’t get his head screwed on straight. Sap away a little bit of Williams’ speed, and add all the common sense, sticky hands, and work ethic that he lacks, and it’s hard to see how the resultant player wouldn’t be Toone.
I'm not guaranteeing a roster spot for Toone, but I’ve said several times that neither Bryant Johnson, nor Dennis Northcutt, nor Derrick Williams appears to have any great future here as a Lion; any of them could be cut tomorrow and I wouldn’t be that surprised. A kid who’s put service, hard work, and team success above all else—including his own career? You absolutely want to see him succeed, and I think he’s got an excellent chance here.