The San Francisco 49ers brought aboard veteran tight end Levine Toilolo in 2019, primarily for his blocking abilities. Is Toilolo poised to take over for Garrett Celek this season?
After all, Toilolo spent two years under the tutelage of now-Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan during their time together with Atlanta.
And Toilolo had one of his better offensive seasons under Shanahan in 2016:
|5 yr||5 yr||ATL||79||57||114||74||723||9.8||7||46||0.9||9.2||64.9%||6.3||1|
|1 yr||1 yr||DET||16||10||24||21||263||12.5||1||39||1.3||16.4||87.5%||11.0||0|
The stats are nice, especially considering Shanahan would take the 21 receptions Toilolo had last year over those from the incumbent No. 2 tight end on the 49ers roster, Garrett Celek.
But Toilolo’s role will be in the blocking campaign. It’s been his strength for much of his career, and the Niners could use some help in this category, too.
With that as a backdrop, what’s Toilolo’s role going to be in 2019?
Why Levine Toilolo Improves in 2019
Toilolo has never been a pass-catching threat at a big-time level, although it’s important to note his 264 receiving yards under Shanahan in 2016 was a career high.
But the 49ers brought Toilolo in to be a blocker. He’s managed well in both run blocking and pass protection over his career, even earning an elite-level 87.1 pass-blocking grade in 2018, according to Pro Football Focus.
His pass protection was both good and consistent under Shanahan in 2015 and 2016, too. So this reunification should be a bonus for Toilolo.
Why Levine Toilolo Regresses
Toilolo will turn 28 years old later this season, so age shouldn’t be too much of a factor. Perhaps the only concern will be what kind of role Toilolo occupies for San Francisco.
Right now, he’s in good position to secure a No. 2 or No. 3 spot on the Niners depth chart. But there’s no way he unseats the team’s Pro Bowler, George Kittle, of course. And if he winds up third on the depth chart, Toilolo will likely be on the field for limited snaps only.
PFF also revealed Toilolo suffered a bit of a regression in run blocking last year. Just how important that is, or whether or not it’s a trend, is anyone’s guess.
Projected Role with the 49ers in 2019
The 49ers also brought aboard Stanford tight end Kaden Smith in this year’s NFL Draft. Smith looks to be much more versatile a pass catcher than Toilolo, and Smith is decent enough in run support, too.
As such, Toilolo is likely competing with Celek for the final tight end spot on San Francisco’s roster.
Celek was flagged six times last season and had just five catches in the process. Plus, Celek is still in the NFL’s concussion protocol, stemming from a Week 16 head injury last year. Those factors likely push Celek onto the fringes of the roster, meaning Toilolo is in good shape to make the cut into Week 1.
Shanahan will have to choose between Smith’s pass-catching potential and Toilolo’s reliable pass protection over the course of the season. Given the head coach’s familiarity with Toilolo, it’s likely the veteran tight end sees more of the field than the rookie, Smith.
At least to start.
Either way, look for Toilolo to be an unsung, yet important piece in the 49ers’ offensive equation this season.
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