Shaka Toney’s speed is a huge advantage at the NFL level
Shaka Toney concluded his Nittany Lion career as one of the most productive, disruptive, and consistent defenses throughout James Franklin’s seven-year tenure as the head of Penn State football.
In 47 total encounters, Toney had 20.5 sacks, which is good for the fourth-highest career sack production in Penn State history. Additionally, the speed rusher left Happy Valley with four forced fumbles and pass deflections.
While Toney’s career speaks for itself, the path to success hasn’t always been so straightforward.
As a three-star rookie, the underrated prospect entered his red-shirt freshman campaign in 2017 as a slim, undersized defensive end with an outside chance to break Sean Spencer’s rotation. Toney was able to gain valuable playing experience from the clean-up action throughout the non-conference roster before bursting onto the national stage in Week 6 against Northwestern.
In limited action against the Wildcats, Toney made his presence felt by registering two sacks at the expense of quarterback Clayton Thorson. His first shot resulted in a forced fumble that set up Penn State’s first goal of the afternoon.
From there, Toney’s production continued to climb steadily, his initial campaign ending with six loss tackles, including 3.5 sacks. The Philadelphia native’s impressive and unexpected performance of the season earned him a spot on the Big Ten Network’s All-Freshman squad.
In his second season of playing eligibility, Toney continued to thrive in an integral role on Penn State’s strong defensive line, despite being positioned as a replacement. The defensive end’s growth during the offseason was immediately evident in the Nittany Lions’ second outing of the season against Pitt.
Toney silenced the Heinz Field crowd by continuously pulling quarterback Kenny Pickett out of the pocket, resulting in five solo tackles, including two for a loss and a sack.
Weeks later, Toney’s ability to mass produce reached a new level in the winning action against Indiana. In the fourth quarter alone, he tied the program record in a single game with four sacks, including a forced fumble essential to stifle Hoosier’s driving offense and help the Nittany Lions secure a victory.
The unprecedented stretch ended with Toney setting a new career high in a single game with six tackles, including four loss tackles, all of which resulted in sacks. As a result, the effort earned him a spot as Penn State’s Defensive Player of the Week.
With an increase in total tackles, loss tackles and sacks from his first season, Toney entered 2019 as an undisputed starter on the defensive end alongside Yetur Gross-Matos. Together, the All-Big Ten tandem combined for 15.5 sacks, making the Nittany Lion pass rush one of the most feared in the country.
As a junior, Toney’s speed shone once again in the Penn State Homecoming game against Purdue. He harassed the Boilermaker’s protection all afternoon and ended the game with four solo kills and three sacks.
Although Toney failed to produce another blatant stat line in a single game as a junior, the passer racked up 40 tackles over a season, resulting in a 17-stroke increase over his previous release. After choosing to return to campus for their fifth season, the All-Big Ten second-team selection has prepared for a defining senior year for their career as the clear leader of the Wild Dog Pack.
After a grueling offseason, Toney immediately asserted his status as the Big Ten’s most dominant defensive presence in Penn State’s opener against Indiana. Although opposing quarterback Michael Penix Jr. dazzled late, Toney recorded two sacks and added seven total tackles to the stat sheet despite coming empty-handed in the win column.
In just eight games, Toney had five tackles in all but three games. His power was there again against Iowa where he collected five tackles, including three for a loss and two sacks.
If the season were to be extended to his regular 12-game roster, Toney would have smashed his previously set career records in all statistical categories. His production of 31 tackles and 7.5 sacks earned him All-Big Ten first-team honors and an invitation to the Senior Bowl.
Toney’s career is the model for steady, linear development. In five seasons on campus, the high end has been able to develop both physically and technically, which, in turn, has translated directly into the meteoric rise in statistical output.
According to NFL Draft Analyst Lance Zierlein, Toney plans to be a fifth to sixth round selection in this year’s draft. While the wide defensive end possesses elite speed, scouts believe his below-par physique could concern front offices looking to select passer at the start of rounds.
During his professional day, Toney clocked an impressive 4.51-40 yard scorecard time, which would have been the fastest among defensive linemen at the NFL Combine last year. Additionally, Toney posted 24 bench press reps at 225 pounds and recorded a vertical jump of 39 inches.
The character of the former team captain has also impressed so far in the draft round. In five seasons on campus, Toney has earned a well-documented honor as a mentor to his younger counterparts on the defensive line.
“I feel like the interviews have been great,” Toney said following his Pro Day. “I’m really able to showcase my football knowledge and the teams can finally have the chance to talk and really hear me. I’m really a talking guy when we talk, so this is the first time they’ve really interacted with me. “
Between Toney’s skillful speed-based repertoire and his much-loved character, the veteran Nittany Lion looks likely to hear his name called in the upcoming NFL Draft.
While his proven production may justify a higher selection than most pundits ask for, expect Toney to be in the fifth round range as one of the steals in the current draft class.