Reunited, and it feels so good.... That’s Kyle Shanahan’s song this off-season, as the team scooped up two of his Atlanta alumni in Tevin Coleman and now Levine Toilolo. Toilolo is a bit of a surprise, given that the team drafted a highly touted tight end in the draft, Stanford’s Kaden Smith.
What does it mean? You have to wonder if skill players have had trouble absorbing Shanahan’s famously complicated playbook, leading him to find some players with a head start.
This might be overthinking it though. Toilolo is a Stanford graduate, like Smith and GM John Lynch. George Kittle ’s monster 2018 obscured the fact that the rest of the TE room was pretty bad.
Even if he had never seen the coach’s schemes before, Toilolo is a massive upgrade over Ross Dwelley and a better run blocker than Garrett Celek, who only had 90 receiving yards last year to Toilolo’s 263. (Let’s not forget that “Celek Time” was always kind of a joke on the concept that he could even be imagined as a serious offensive threat.)
Toilolo signed a one-year deal with Detroit for $1.5 million a year ago, and it’s unlikely he’s making much more than that now. It seems like a low-cost upgrade.
Age: 27 (turns 28 on July 30th)
Experience: Six seasons.
Contract details aren’t out yet, but it’s likely that Toilolo signed a deal under $2 million with nothing guaranteed. The team announced just that he’s on a one-year deal.
What to expect in 2019:
Toilolo has always been primarily a blocker, and Lions fans say he wasn’t much good at pass protection either. However, he’s a great run blocker and seems to have improved as a pass-catcher. Since he and Shanahan parted two years, Toilolo has a fantastic 33 receptions on 38 targets. So he’s very reliable when you send it his way.
Since he is the tallest player in the NFL at 6’8”, this raises the hope of posting him up in the end zone in goal-line situations. It’s not often that a guy that tall is a great blocker, and even in Atlanta Shanahan used him in ingenious three-tight-end formations (as I described previously on Niners Nation). Look for him to block first on play-action, then leak out for a pass.
Alternatively, Shanahan could go the other way, and put together a monster lead-blocking front with Kyle Juszczyk, Kittle and Toilolo joining the OL to blast everything in the form of an outside zone run. Hmm.... (sorry, got lost daydreaming of forty-yard Breida bursts there).
Odds of making the roster:
Garrett Celek was hobbled by a broken thumb last year, and Toilolo and Kaden Smith will have to beat him out to make this roster. (There’s no room for a fourth tight end with Hurd, a sort-of TE, also on the roster.) However, honestly, it shouldn’t be that hard.
Even at his peak, Celek was averaging 290 yards a year, which Toilolo nearly matched last year, and he’s not as good of a blocker. Celek is 30 and makes $2.7 million; Smith makes $590,000. Barring injury, it’s safe to say that Celek Time is over.