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Draft Needs: Is Levine Toilolo Ready to Start?

April 28th, 2014

The Atlanta Falcons are certain to add a tight end in next month’s 2014 NFL Draft. It’s not a question of if, but rather when.

That is purely based off the fact that Toilolo is the most experienced tight end on the roster, and he’s only been in the league one season. Mickey Shuler entered the league in 2010 and played six games with the Miami Dolphins that year, but hasn’t played a snap since. Toilolo played in every game as a rookie in 2013. Between the two of them, they have a combined 13 catches in the NFL.

They are tasked with replacing the greatest tight end in NFL history by the name of Tony Gonzalez. Impossible shoes to fill, but the Falcons will be certain to provide a little extra help in the draft.

In fact, the void for Gonzalez is so large, that the Falcons could presumably draft two tight ends and wouldn’t even come close to filling it.

Toilolo was a forgotten man for large chunks of 2013. Even when the Falcons went with a young movement in the final month of 2013 at several other positions, Toilolo’s playing time stayed about the same. The team knew that Gonzalez was set to retire, and trying to mix in Toilolo to get more reps to see if he could be an adequate replacement made a ton of sense at the time. Yet they chose not to do so.

That raises questions about how much confidence the team has in Toilolo. Last year, they had every reason to play him and did not. If that lack of confidence carries over into 2014, it signals that the team will make a significant addition at tight end to upgrade not only their depth, but also to add someone that can challenge Toilolo as a starter.

If that is the case, it would seem the second day is a likely point in the draft where they could address this position. Particularly if the player the team targets is supposed to contribute as a pass-catcher. The premium at the tight end position remains guys that can make plays in the passing game as those guys get snatched up quickly in the early rounds of any draft.

If the Falcons want someone that can be a reliable option for Matt Ryan in the passing game, they may be hard-pressed to find him after the third or fourth round.

Not only could the team be looking for someone that can help as a pass-catcher, but also a player as a blocker. If the Falcons deemphasize the fullback position, as previously postulated, they will need to shore up their depth at tight end. If the Falcons are going to use more two tight-end sets, then they need to have at least three they trust can play.

So even if the Falcons were to take a tight end in the second or third round, it would not be surprising if they double-dipped at the position and took someone that can block later in the draft. It’s notable that since the team traded for Gonzalez, most of the tight ends added to the roster have been known primarily as blockers: Toilolo, Shuler, Michael Palmer, Tommy Gallarda, Adam Nissley, Andrew Szczerba.

It suggests a preference for the traditional “Y” tight end that lines up beside a tackle and is asked to block inline rather than the “H” tight end that can be flexed out as a receiver or lines up in the backfield. So even if the team adds a pass catcher early in the draft, it would not be surprising if that prospect also has extensive experience as an inline blocker.

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