With the Giants being in the market for tight end help following the retirement of Rhett Ellison, they signed tight end journeyman Levine Toilolo from the 49ers, the same team that produced Kaden Smith.
Adding a player like Toilolo is precisely what the Giants need. The massive 6-foot 8, 268-pound tight end is 28 years of age and excels as a blocker in pass protection and the run game as a Y-tight end (inline).
Pro Football Focus had him as their number one pass-blocking tight end in 2018 when he was playing for the Lions, and he ranked 47th in 2019 when used in a more limited role with the 49ers (only 232 snaps, mostly in 13 or 12 personnel packages).
As for his 2019 run-blocking ranking, PFF had him ranked 47th as well. But despite the drop, Toilolo is a proven asset when it comes to blocking, and the Giants need that at the position, as Evan Engram's long-term future with this team is far from being settled (and even if he has a future, he's more of a receiving weapon than blocking threat) while rookie Kaden Smith showed flashes of blocking competence.
I watched a lot of Toilolo film over the last few days, and I came away impressed with his blocking ability, especially in pass protection, so here are a few of my observations about what likely caught the Giants' eye.
Here we see a sort of jump set from Toilolo against #50 Samson Ebukam.
First, I want to point out the feet of Toilolo. He’s so nimble for a player that isn’t an offensive lineman. He’s able to mirror Ebukam up the arc, and even handle the dip of the pass rusher.
Toilolo gets his hands inside, bends at the waist, recoils his hips through the block, and anchors, blocking the pass rusher from getting into the pocket.
Against Carlos Dunlap of the Bengals, a very talented pass rusher, Toilolo takes away the inside, then mirrors Dunlap outside, while engaging him in hand fighting and readjusting throughout the rep.
Toilolo does this from the Y and H-Back position, respectively. Having a tight end who is good in pass protection is a near necessity for the Giants right now; Nate Solder has significantly struggled on the left side, and the Giants don’t have a right tackle at the moment.
Having the security of Toilolo next to either side is important, especially if the Giants go with a tackle in the first round and that tackle struggles to adapt to the speed of the NFL.
Toilolo can also block and seal on the edge. Above you see an impressive down block on #94 Dean Lowry, who is a 298-pound defensive lineman, who has handled 2-gap responsibilities as the 5-technique. Lowry gets the jump on Toilolo, presses him back, and does a good job creating space.
What I love to see is Toilolo’s ability to readjust, sink his hips, gain some leverage, and find a way to do just enough to turn and seal Lowry away from the running path. Lowry initially won the rep and had good leverage on Toilolo, who was too high, which is a problem of his, but Toilolo was able to battle through the block and come out victorious.
New York Giants Lose 30-29 Heartbreaker on Walk-off Field Goal
Washington snaps the Giants' five-game winning streak thanks to a second chance gifted to them due to a Giants penalty on a field goal attempt.
Giants Offensive Lineman Nick Gates Exits Game vs. Washington With Lower Leg Fracture
Nick Gates, a team captain, was making a start at left guard for the Giants when his left leg was rolled up on.
New York Giants - Washington Gameday Inactive Report
Here is the list of players who were scratched for the New York Giants' Week 2 game at Washington.
The second clip is against Ebukam again, who slants inside and assists Toilolo in completing his block, but Toilolo does such an excellent job in sealing Ebukam away from the two pulling linemen.
Ebukam could have taken out one of the pullers but didn’t because Toilolo was able to ride his momentum inside and put himself in-between Ebukam and the pullers, but the pullers failed to locate their blocks in time, so the play wasn’t a huge gain.
The third clip shows Toilolo transitioning between blocks; he helps open the hole by pushing the 3-technique inside, which helps the guard, and then Toilolo works to the second level and picks up the WILL and allows the hole to open up.
Here are some more examples. In the first clip, Toilolo is to the far left, boundary side and he does an excellent job making initial contact on #91 Preston Smith and driving his feet through the block.
Smith tries to use a long arm, lockout, technique to set a firm edge, but he wasn’t overly effective. A very nice play, though, by current Giant Blake Martinez to locate the ball carrier, but Toilolo’s ability to keep readjusting his punch and maintain power through his block is impressive.
Toilolo is the H-Back in the second clip above and does a similar action to one of the clips you saw before. He helps the tackle block Chandler Jones with a simple nudge inside before he works up to the second level, locates the middle linebacker, and turns him out of the hole.
Toilolo shows an ability to unlock his hips, gain leverage, and turn at the block point in space, something that isn’t prevalent in many 6’8 football players.
The third clip shows awareness; Toilolo is very patient, waiting to see what #51 Troy Reeder is doing. He steps into the play side gap and watches Reeder as he goes to loop outside. Once Reeder fully commits, Toilolo turns his hips on Ebukam and seals the edge with his fellow tight end.
This is a high mental processing rep showing awareness and that ability to adjust throughout a rep. These kinds of plays were common in Toilolo’s film; he won’t win any awards, but they’re valuable to the continuity of an offense.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Toilolo’s receiving ability. He had two receptions with the 49ers in 2019 and 21 catches in 2018 with the Lions.
In his career, since 2013, Toilolo has 101 receptions for 1,039 yards and 8 touchdowns. He’s not a threat in that aspect of the game as he cannot create separation and doesn’t have much wiggle after the catch, but he’ll undoubtedly lower his shoulder and run through a player or two.
Toilolo is not easy to bring down due to his size, and, as you can see above, if he does get a head of steam, he can truck players.
Toilolo is a good chip-and-release check down option for quarterbacks; that’s his effectiveness in receiving. He has the hands to be competent when filling that check-down role. However, he lacks the tracking, body control, and overall athletic ability to be an intermediate to vertical threat.
Overall, the addition of Toilolo will help the Giants in pass protection, and he’ll help the tackles on the edge. It was a smart signing that can have an unsung, yet valuable, impact for the Giants in 2020.