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Former Penn State standout uses Senior Bowl to play two positions, boost NFL stock

JOE JULIANO
The Philadelphia Inquirer (TNS)
Penn State defensive end Shaka Toney (18) celebrates a stop against Iowa during an NCAA college football game in State College, Pa., on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020.(AP Photo/Barry Reeger)

After a senior season that saw him make the All-Big Ten first team as a defensive end, Penn State's Shaka Toney showed NFL scouts at last week's Senior Bowl workouts that he could be a potential outside linebacker as well.

Toney, who starred at Imhotep Charter, impressed during a pass coverage drill, and a video released online from the workout showed him running stride for stride with Boise State tight end John Bates on a deep pass pattern.

Toney's Senior Bowl team was coached by Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores and his staff, and he said one of the coaches "gave me some good pointers right before the rep, so I just did exactly what he wanted me to do."

He performed well all week considering that he tested positive for COVID-19 right before Christmas, losing 20 pounds off the 250-pound frame at which he played for Penn State. He was back up to 238 pounds by the time Senior Bowl workouts began.

"I thought I did a good job," Toney said after returning to Philadelphia. "There was plenty of stuff I want to do better. But despite all the circumstance and everything going on, I thought I did well. But the grind doesn't stop."

Penn State defensive end Shaka Toney (18) leaves the field following an NCAA college football game against Maryland in State College, Pa., on Saturday, Nov. 07, 2020. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)

Asked whether he'd like to play defensive end or outside linebacker at the next level, he replied, "I just want the opportunity.

"Whatever people want me to do, I'm going to do it, and I'm going to do it to the best of my ability honestly. We still have (Penn State's) Pro Day so I've just got to keep working and show that I'm flexible and that I can handle any situation. I think they'd be attracted to a guy that doesn't care about the circumstance. He just keeps doing exactly what they need him to do."

Improving his stock: Toney appears to be off to a good start impressing NFL teams. Pro Football Focus gave him the third-highest grade of any defensive player in the Senior Bowl. The NFL Draft Bible said his flexibility could help him improve his draft stock.

The latest prospect ranking from CBSSports.com puts Toney at No. 114 overall and the No. 10 edge rusher. Pro Football Network calls him "truly one of the more complete pass rushing prospects" in the NFL draft, and that he could be a second-day or early third-day selection.

Penn State head coach James Franklin said Toney would make a good addition to any team, whether it's at defensive end or outside linebacker.

"I think he's deceptively strong," Franklin said last month. "He has tremendous quickness. And he's got an unbelievable football IQ. A lot of his playmaking didn't come from his athleticism, it came from his football intelligence as well. He's got a bright future."

Toney said that while his Senior Bowl interviews with NFL scouts and front-office personnel went well, he wanted to talk more football with them.

"I wished I could have shown more of my IQ, my football knowledge," he said. "With corona and everything, we couldn't do the interviews the same, couldn't really meet the same way."

His PSU career: Toney led the Nittany Lions this past season with five sacks (tied for fourth in the Big Ten) and his 7 1/2 tackles for loss were second. In his 47-game Penn State career, Toney finished with 20 1/2 sacks, eighth on the program's all-time list, and had five games with two or more sacks.

He said being named All-Big Ten "meant the world to me," but he would have preferred going out with a conference championship after returning to the Lions for a fifth season.

"I didn't come back for individual accolades so it kind of hurts," he said. "But I can't go back now. Hopefully I left a lasting impression on my teammates. Everybody knows that I gave everything I had last season. I didn't quit. That's just how I want to be remembered as."

Now that he's looking to the next level, Toney wants to make the most of it.

"Opportunity is everything," he said. "You dream about this your entire life. Now as you get closer, you just realize more and more how important every day is and that you can't take any day for granted."