Prior to the start of the 2016 NFL Draft, Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians admitted the depth on the Cardinals' roster will make it difficult for late round selections and undrafted free agents to crack the team's 53-man roster.
Though Arizona could use more depth along its offensive line, Toner's battle for a roster spot may turn out to be more difficult than each of the team's other five draft picks. The numbers game will be difficult for Toner because the Cardinals' other fifth round selection, Marqui Christian, and the team's sixth round pick, Harlan Miller, both have the potential to contribute immediately on special teams.
Toner's uphill climb is difficult, but it isn't unique for players drafted by general manager Steve Keim. Under Keim, the Cardinals have often drafted players in the later rounds out of small colleges who have turned into contributors, and Toner hopes his transition from the Ivy League to the pros will be similarly smooth.
One factor working in Toner's favor is the versatility he brings along the offensive line. Toner played a lot of right tackle at Harvard, but believes he can play every position up front, including center. Arizona entered the offseason without a reserve offensive lineman who has experience at tackle, so the team may need Toner to fill a backup role while he develops and adjusts to the speed of the game in the NFL.
- The first aspect of Toner's game that jumps out on tape is his willingness to see blocks through to the end and play to the whistle. When other linemen turn their heads to see the play, Toner keeps a narrow focus on the man in front of him and keeps his feet driving through the end of each play. During the course of a play, Toner is constantly battling to gain leverage against opponents and after initial contact is made, Toner maintains a consistent effort to gain ground and force his opponent backwards. Toner does a good job of establishing positioning in pass protection, which helps his cause when he needs to keep defensive linemen from collapsing down in the pocket.
- Toner's ability to establish positioning is important, because he doesn't possess great agility. Toner appears to be cognizant of maintaining strong footwork in pass protection, and does a nice job firing back off the snap to put himself in position to keep the quarterback clean. One of the issues we foresee Toner having with his adjustment to the next level is his quickness with recovering against inside moves. On many occasions, Toner is so focused on giving up ground at the snap to gain a positioning advantage that he leaves the C-gap exposed. Against edge rushers in the NFL, players will bait Toner to the outside and rip quickly to the inside to find a direct path to the quarterback. Whether or not Toner has the foot quickness to deal with this type of a move remains to be seen, because he hardly faced comparable pass rushers during his time at Harvard.
- At Harvard, Toner played almost exclusively out of a two-point stance when he played right tackle. While playing without his hand in the dirt gave Toner opportunities to fire off the ball in pass protection, he sometimes struggled to establish a low pad level in the running game. Toner doesn't bend particularly well and isn't overly flexible, which means he could be limited as a run-blocker in the NFL. For someone who lacks agility, pad level becomes even more critical because a low pad level allows linemen to drive would-be-tacklers backward. While Toner has the desire to finish blocks through the whistle, a high pad level leaves offensive linemen exposed and allows defenders to blow right past them.
- Though we haven't seen Toner in person yet, the film suggests Toner's body is somewhat top heavy and that he doesn't possess the same powerful physique fellow Cardinals draft pick Evan Boehm owns. Boehm exhibits power from his lower body, whereas Toner stands more upright and won a lot of one-on-one battles with his upper body strength. In the NFL, offensive linemen need to be able to generate power from their legs and hips, and this is a serious question mark for Toner because he doesn't appear to be overly flexible. The Cardinals were able to keep last year's first round draft pick D.J. Humphries out of action last season to get his body prepared for the rigors of the NFL, and Toner may benefit from a similar "redshirt" type of a rookie season.
Toner's NFL readiness is still a question mark, and his performance during camp will go a long way toward deciding what type of a role he takes on as a rookie. The Cardinals have thin depth along the offensive line, and could look at bringing in a veteran through free agency that would make Toner's task of making the 53-man roster more difficult. The Cardinals have a variety of routes they can take with Toner's development, but their willingness to use a fifth round pick on him demonstrates the team believes in Toner's versatility and potential.