The Atlanta Falcons used a fourth-round pick in 2013 to select Levine Toilolo, a player they ostensibly designated to be the heir apparent to the legendary Tony Gonzalez at the tight end position. Through two seasons, Toilolo has yet to live up to expectations and the Falcons may find it’s time to move on.
Especially given a new coaching staff that has no real ties to Toilolo, the time might be ripe to go in a new direction. The Falcons already added a pair of tight ends in free agency in the forms of Jacob Tamme and Tony Moeaki. Unless Toilolo shows significant growth, it’s likely that both veterans will leapfrog him on the depth chart even though both consistitute low-level free-agent signings.
Tamme is more adept in the passing game and is only a few years removed from a 50-catch season and is likely to be the starter when the season begins. Moeaki was used primarily as a blocker the past few years, but has been more consistent in that arena than Toilolo has in his brief NFL career.
What Toilolo does bring to the table is size with his tall 6-8 frame, possessing the potential to be an option in the red zone. But he was vastly underutilized there by the previous coaching staff, and unless new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan can better take advantage of that skill, then the third-year tight end might wind up languishing on the bench with no truly defined role. If so, that makes his roster spot ripe for an upgrade.
Should the Falcons seek said upgrade, they may have picked the wrong year to do so. It’s a notoriously weak draft class at tight end, with only a handful of players that are deemed potential NFL starters. Instead, the Falcons may be forced to settle for a developmental backup in someone that could potentially carve out a depth role and eventually push or replace Tamme or Moeaki.
If so, that raises questions over whether the Falcons would prefer someone with a bit more receiving or blocking ability. Given the team’s tenuous ties to Toilolo and the fact that Moeaki is working under a one-year minimum deal, adding a blocker makes sense. There is a clearer path to a role on the team in the nearer future should said draft pick stick.
But a receiver also makes plenty of sense given that Tamme isn’t getting any younger at age 30. While Tamme has a two-year deal, the Falcons may only view him as a stopgap option for one year and would prefer a draft pick with a bit more upside as a receiver to eventually push him in 2016 for the starting role. Not to mention, pass-catching tight ends have always been a ubiquitous aspect of Shanahan’s offense. Players such as Owen Daniels, Jordan Reed and Jordan Cameron have shined in the offense.
Yet as mentioned before, the 2015 NFL draft might be limited on this type of tight end. Thus, the Falcons may wind up settling for a late-round pick. And as mentioned before, the Falcons aren’t prone to using draft picks on players that are iffy when it comes to making the roster. And despite expectations being down for Toilolo, he still is a much more proven asset than a late-round project. So the Falcons may wind up passing on a tight end in this year’s draft in hopes that next year’s crop of free agents and prospects bear better options.
However, if the Falcons do select a late-round pick or manage to snag one of few quality tight end prospects in this draft, it could prove a death knell to Toilolo’s career as a Falcon.