finding the fits

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finding the fits

Postby fun gus » Wed Jun 12, 2013 7:34 am

This article is one of a series called Finding the Fits in which will review some of the more intriguing picks made during the 2013 NFL Draft. The goal of the series is to identify one relatively unheralded player per team who appears to be a good schematic fit and, therefore, more likely to be a surprise contributor early in his pro career.

Atlanta Falcons' best fit: TE Levine Toilolo, Stanford, fourth round, No. 107 overall

With all due respect to running back Steven Jackson and defensive end Osi Umenyiora, the key free agent the Atlanta Falcons convinced to sign in 2013 was their own -- future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez.

While Gonzalez certainly isn't the deep threat down the seam he was when coming out of Cal in 1997, his savvy route-running and soft hands continue to make him one of the league's toughest matchups, especially in the red zone.

With Gonzalez almost surely retiring after the 2013 season, however, the Falcons were wise to look to this position in the draft. The player they selected -- Stanford's Levine Toilolo -- won't be confused with Gonzalez anytime soon, but that doesn't mean that general manager Thomas Dimitroff doesn't have big plans for the 6-8, 265-pound junior.

Currently the tallest tight end on an NFL roster, Toilolo's great size gives the Falcons a second matchup nightmare for defenses to contend with in the red zone. In this way, the Stanford rookie won't be asked to replace Gonzalez as much as complement the 16-year veteran.

It isn't just Toilolo's physical traits that intrigue, however. He also appears to have the mindset needed to handle what is likely to be a limited role. After playing next to Coby Fleener and Zach Ertz at Stanford, Toilolo is used to playing second fiddle. He's also used to blocking in a power-based running scheme with limited opportunities to catch the ball (50 career receptions).

Most important (considering Atlanta's "other" pass-catching stars Julio Jones and Roddy White), Toilolo's value lies in the physicality and size he offers as a blocker.

Even with Matt Ryan alternately picking apart defenses through Jones, White and Gonzalez, coach Mike Smith and offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter fancy their club as one that can run with power.

A season ago, the Falcons featured undrafted free-agent rookie Tommy Gallarda (Boise State) as their primary blocking tight end. Gallarda played well in nine games before a shoulder injury ended his season early. Gallarda is back healthy and the Falcons signed former Cincinnati Bengals' second-rounder Chase Coffman, but the primary backup job behind Gonzalez appears to be Toilolo's for the taking.

It will tough for any rookie to earn a starting role on a team as talented as the Falcons (though cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford have a shot), but if Toilolo can match Gallarda's grit and consistency, the fourth-round pick could play a critical role in Atlanta this year as a blocking specialist ... with perhaps a much larger role in 2014 and beyond.

Athleticism, attitude key with Atlanta's rookies (other thoughts on the Falcons' 2013 draft class):

While Toilolo could play an important niche for the Falcons as a rookie, the team is banking on either Trufant or Alford to emerge as a quality starter opposite big play veteran Asante Samuel.

Each boasts spectacular overall athleticism, and concerns about Alford's level of competition were largely put to rest after a strong performance at the Senior Bowl. Trufant was even better in Mobile, however, and took most of the first-team snaps at right cornerback during the team's rookie mini-camp.

Neither he nor Toilolo were able to participate in Atlanta's recent OTAs per NFL rules, however, as their classes at the University of Washington and Stanford, respectively, hadn't yet graduated.

Smith didn't sound too worried that the absence would impact his rookies, especially Trufant, who is communicating via Skype with Falcons' secondary coach Tim Lewis.

"Obviously, you'd like for them to be here, but [Trufant is] going to be graduating and walking with his class, which is an important milestone in his life," Smith said. "I think it's a good rule. He's going to miss some opportunities on the field, but we've got a plan in place that we've been executing. There are a lot of ways that you can communicate with technology now in terms of having meetings."

Trufant played well in his first action with the club, but so did Alford, who was operating as Samuel's top backup at left cornerback. Each possesses the straight-line speed, fluidity and confidence to handle playing early -- which is good, considering the Falcons elected to allow three of their top five cornerbacks from a year ago to leave.

The Falcons are confident that Umenyiora is going to give them the pass-rushing presence that John Abraham had provided since 2006, but the club drafted two very intriguing defenders to help, as well.

Malliciah Goodman, 6-3, 276, boasts many of the physical traits scouts are looking for and may finally live up to his potential now that his livelihood is depending on it. Stansly Maponga, 6-2, 256, likely would have been selected at least a round earlier had he enjoyed the same success during an injury-plagued junior season that he enjoyed earlier in his career. ... or-falcons
"what if there were no hypothetical situations?"

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