The Detroit Lions entered the 2018 season with an entirely revamped tight end room. Eric Ebron and Darren Fells both joined another team last spring and the team had to replace them. Enter Levine Toilolo (and Luke Willson), a tight end with 74 career receptions in five NFL seasons. A tight end who played in one of the greatest offenses in the modern era, the 2016 Atlanta Falcons.
Toilolo had a fairly quiet year in Detroit. He caught 21 passes for 263 yards and a touchdown, but low production was expected from the Stanford alum. Toilolo was primarily brought in to be a blocker.
And a great blocker he was.
The tight end finds most his success as a run blocker. He is great at getting low and driving defenders out of a gap. Toilolo is really strong and can push a defender all the way across the formation when he is asked to. He is a smart blocker as well, and rarely does he end up shoving the man that he is blocking into the path of the running back.
He has great awareness, and when he is forced to go in motion to find someone to block, he usually is able to find his assignment in time to make a good block to support his running back.
While Toilolo is very strong and has all the physicality anyone would ever need to succeed in the NFL, he is one of the stiffest players on the roster. He has virtually zero explosion, he is not at all agile and he is incredibly slow. There may be a few NFL tackles with better athleticism than Toilolo.
This should hurt him a bit as a pass blocker, as tight ends are usually matched up against quick, agile and bendy defensive ends. Toilolo still manages to make it work, though.
The tight end is often beat out of his stance by his opposition, but his footwork, football IQ and technique allows him to recover quickly enough to seal the edge anyways. This play against the New England Patriots is a good example.
The Patriots rusher clearly gets the jump on Toilolo. The linebacker gets beneath the tight end and drives him back. Toilolo’s strength allows him to hold the block long enough to give Matthew Stafford a clean pocket, though, and the play results in a touchdown.
On this play against the Patriots, he is forced to hold a block in open space as he is lined up as a receiver. He is basically the only thing between a sack and a touchdown on this play, and he comes up big for the Lions.
While his lack of athleticism does not detract from his skills as a blocker much, it kills any chance at contributing a large volume as a receiver.
Toilolo had a few stand out games as a receiver last season, but when watching the games back, it feels more like the opposing defense was allowing him to. They were willing to let Toilolo have a huge day if it meant not letting Stafford find receivers like Kenny Golladay open downfield.
levine toilolo had a huge day week 13 vs the rams and it feels like la just let him. left him open over the middle on deep post routes over the middle, willing to let him go wild if it meant keeping golladay and riddick in check. pic.twitter.com/D9WWMJYtAt— mansur (@MansurShaheen) February 9, 2019
While you can commend Toilolo for being able to get open and catch passes, the big days he had towards the end of the season seem to be more of an indictment of the tight end room’s failures to produce all season rather than an indication of the skill of Toilolo.
In reality, Toilolo is a very slow, stiff route runner. He gets a majority of his work as a quick outlet for Stafford underneath. He rarely gets anything after the catch, and when he is forced to run a route deep downfield, he cannot get open against man coverage.
This isn’t a huge issue, though. Toilolo was never supposed to be a big part of the Lions receiving game anyways.
Does Toilolo have a future in Detroit?
Toilolo is a player made to play for new Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. His ability as a run blocker should help the ground attack that Detroit really seems to be leaning towards and with question marks across the Lions offensive line at the moment, his ability as a pass blocker will be of great use as well.
The tight end will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason. He signed a one-year deal worth $1 million last spring. Expect a contract for him this year to cost slightly more and maybe even have a few extra years on it.
He will not be a starter going forward, and Detroit will still need to add an athletic receiving tight end, but Toilolo deserves another contract with the Lions. He was brought in to do one job, and he did that job really well.