For five seasons the Atlanta Falcons’ tight end position was one of the league’s best due to the presence of Tony Gonzalez, but now entering 2014 could have possibly morphed into one of the league’s weakest units.
There are unanswered questions heading into training camp at this position, centering mostly on whether Levine Toilolo is ready to take over for Gonzalez.
Toilolo was drafted in the fourth round of last year’s draft and tabbed as the heir apparent to Gonzalez. However, despite the team’s youth movement at most other positions in the second half of 2013, the Falcons never saw fit to really get Toilolo on the field. It raises questions about the level of confidence the team should have in the young tight end.
No one expects Toilolo to come close to filling Gonzalez’s shoes, but that doesn’t mean that expectations are low. Toilolo is currently penciled atop the Falcons depth chart at tight end, and thus should still at least act accordingly.
Toilolo won’t be one of the top starting tight ends in the league in 2014, but should at least look competent. And whether he can achieve that remains to be seen. The hope is that Toilolo eventually develops into a player similar to Marcedes Lewis, who Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter had in Jacksonville. Lewis has good size and is known mainly as one of the top blocking tight ends in the league, but is also an occasional playmaker and red-zone threat.
Toilolo has the tools to be that sort of player, but it might take some time before that sort of ability comes forth. It should be noted that Lewis got off to a slow start in his pro career. Toilolo will need a very strong preseason, something he lacked last summer, to allay any concerns about his immediate starting potential.
Toilolo will be pushed by Bear Pascoe, although it’s unlikely the Falcons have any intention of starting Pascoe this season. Pascoe was brought in to block as the Falcons intend to be a more balanced, physical team. He’s a role player that shouldn’t have any major issue making the team given the lack of options behind him.
The team’s third tight end spot is wide open. Mickey Shuler would technically be considered the incumbent since he spent last season on the team’s practice squad. But he’s been a journeyman and only appeared in six games through four seasons in the pros.
It’s a spot ripe for an upgrade if someone halfway decent comes along later this summer when roster cuts are made.
Undrafted rookies Jacob Pedersen and Brian Wosniak stand a decent shot of actually making the roster due to the lack of a proven candidate ahead of them.
Pedersen is a capable receiver that could make a nice developmental H-back for the Falcons offense, a role that Pascoe could potentially fill this season. Wozniak is more of a blocker that will need to showcase more pass-catching ability to make his mark. If either play well this summer, they will make prime candidates for the practice squad. Whether the Falcons want to have such unproven players as their third tight end remains to be seen.
But it would be a sound bet to expect the Falcons to make a move at this position before the season begins and possibly even before camp opens up next week. There are just too many question marks for the Falcons to be satisfied.