The third-year pro is out of redshirt eligibility now after missing his rookie year with a foot injury and spending most of last season as the inactive fifth receiver. Now he needs to turn his potential into production.
However, it’s important to stress that last season was not a make or break year for Toon.
Even though he struggled in his one big audition against the New York Jets last season, the Saints are still very high on Toon’s potential and consider him a young player on the rise -- something coaches Sean Payton and Henry Ellard and general manager Mickey Loomis have all stressed this offseason.
Nick Toon has four receptions for the Saints, but hopes to earn a bigger role in the offense this year.
Toon has continued to shine during these summer practices, and he has a great shot of earning that No. 4 receiver job in a battle with the likes of Robert Meachem and Joe Morgan.
“I think that what was challenging last year was just our numbers (at the receiver position). ... It was hard to get him on the field,” Payton explained. “I would expect him to play a bigger role for our offense this season. I thought he played real well in his opportunities last year in training camp. He’s doing well here in this offseason. His progress is important to us. With the loss of a number of players, particularly Lance Moore, I think you’ll see more snaps for him and more opportunities.
“I’m sure he sees himself as a guy that is going to be not just in the mix to play receiver, but in the mix to get plays for him. He is doing real well.”
Toon (6-foot-4, 218 pounds) did have an excellent performance in the preseason last year. Unfortunately, he is probably remembered best for his performance in that Jets game, when he dropped two key passes in the first half -- one of which could have resulted in a touchdown on a deep ball, and the other which resulted in an interception after he tipped it up.
Toon played extensively in that game because starter Marques Colston was injured. And it was definitely a missed opportunity for the young receiver -- in the place where his father, Al Toon, used to be a star receiver for the Jets, of all places.
If Toon had shined in that game, then the Saints might have felt forced into putting him on the field more -- like what happened late in the year with rookie running back Khiry Robinson.
However, the fact that Toon went back to the inactive list soon after that game was not an indication that he was being punished or demoted.
“I think everything’s a learning experience,” said Toon, who said he didn’t dwell too much on that missed opportunity last season. “You know, last year was what it was, and I learned a lot last year, and it’s helped me transition into this year. And I feel I’ve had a great start thus far.
“You know, we’ve got a long way to go to get ready for the season. But I’m really looking forward to this year.”
Toon said he believes he needs to seize his opportunity this year -- but he said, “I think that’s every year.”
“You can’t ever go into any year thinking that you have time to waste,” said Toon, who was drafted in the fifth round out of Wisconsin in 2012 before landing on injured reserve with a nagging foot injury. “This is a competitive league. This is the best players in the world at this level. So you can never stop getting better, you can never stop improving, and every day is a new opportunity.”
Toon’s path to playing time isn’t really any clearer than it was a year ago. Even though the Saints released Moore, they drafted receiver Brandin Cooks in the first round. So Colston, Kenny Stills and Cooks are virtually locks for the top three receiver spots.
That leaves Toon battling veteran Meachem (a guy who passed up Toon last season when the Saints re-signed him in Week 1) and Morgan (a guy who did seize his own opportunity with a strong performance in 2012 before suffering a major knee injury last year).
But Toon insisted that he’s not focused on breaking down the other receivers and where he fits in the hierarchy.
“My job is to go out there and do what I do to the best of my ability,” Toon said. “And the rest is up to the coaching staff, and it’ll all play out like it’s supposed to.”