I’m counting down the top 40 players on the Atlanta Falcons, and let’s continue with 37th-ranked player: tight end Levine Toilolo.
To read the methodology I devised to rank the Falcons players, click here.
Total Score: 42/100
Last year’s rank: 32
Player Grade: 48/100
Teams he is starter: 3 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 3 out of 32
Teams he is role player: 15 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +4
Positional Bonus: +3
This season could prove to be a very interesting season for Toilolo as it may wind up being his one and only shot to prove he merits a starting position with the Falcons. Tasked with the unenviable task of filling the shoes of the greatest tight end in NFL history by the name of Tony Gonzalez, there will be a certain degree of expectations on Toilolo this season.
It’s not fair to expect Toilolo to be anywhere close to the player that Gonzalez was, but it is certainly fair to think that he should at least be a serviceable and occasionally good starter. The player that Toilolo is in 2014 might only be a sample of the player he could grow into.
Toilolo has tools to work with, particularly his size and athleticism. He could make a very good target over the middle with more ability to stretch a defense down the seam than Gonzalez did in his time in Atlanta. That was exactly where Toilolo excelled at doing in his days at Stanford when he was catching passes from Andrew Luck.
Toilolo also can be a big factor in the red zone. This was an ability that the Falcons took advantage of on occasion during his rookie season in 2013, but certainly not to the liking that I would have preferred. But the team will likely have a lot more opportunities in 2014.
The Falcons planned elimination of the “F” tight end position that Gonzalez played, which asked him to flex out and act as a slot receiver a majority of passing downs, indicates that they are tailoring their offense more to Toilolo.
Instead, Toilolo will serve as the more traditional “Y” or inline tight end in this year’s Falcons offense. That likely will mean that his primary duties may be blocking. Toilolo needs to show improvement in that arena. While his size means that his potential to develop there is high, he’s not quite as physical as you want. That could possibly lead the his backup, Bear Pascoe supplanting him as a starter if he proves to add more value in that arena, which will likely be the case. That is, unless Toilolo can prove he’s more of an asset as a pass-catcher.
As a receiver, the big concern is whether or not Toilolo can develop a rapport with Matt Ryan. Toilolo has not had a ton of opportunities to work with Ryan and the starters throughout his short stint in Atlanta. For much of last offseason and summer, it was Chase Coffman taking the majority of first-team reps while Gonzalez was away with his family. Toilolo also missed a chunk of this year’s offseason activities with an undisclosed injury. It all means that there will be a large deal of catch-up in the preseason and training camp for Toilolo to try and develop the sort of rapport needed to be a factor in the passing game. Ryan trusted Gonzalez, which certainly is not likely to be the case with Toilolo. It will probably take years for such a rapport to build between quarterback and tight end, but every opportunity gained this summer will be a step closer to that eventually.
There’s a lot of question marks with Toilolo in regards to his potential as a starter. He has the capability, but if he does not flash the right amount of upside in 2014, he may wind up being stuck as a role player and backup in 2015 and beyond.