Consider Levine Toilolo. As a man who was drafted to be a potential starter down the line, he could be considered a disappointment. As a tight end selected in the fourth round who is now a vital blocker and sporadically useful receiver in this Falcons offense, though, he has genuine value for Atlanta. The team looked like they missed that blocking acumen against the Saints, and they could be without it again versus Carolina.
The Falcons have used Austin Hooper as their starter at tight end throughout the season, and Hooper has had a solid year as a receiver despite some ugly drops, and is a better blocker than I anticipated he’d be. They’ve also made extensive use of Toilolo, however, and if his sprained MCL joint keeps him out for this one, they’ll be turning to rookie Eric Saubert.
Saubert is a rookie I like a great deal, but he’s gotten fewer than 30 snaps by my count on offense this year, though he has been active on special teams. The team would likely forego a second tight end most of the day rather than turn to Saubert now, but considering how smoothly the offense operated against the Saints—read: not at all smoothly—this is a cause for concern. I never thought I’d find myself worrying about the absence of Levine Toilolo, but here we are.
The twin great concerns right now for Atlanta are that starting left guard Andy Levitre and Toilolo will both be out, depriving the Falcons of two key blockers against a borderline dominant Panthers front four. Let’s hope both can suit up in a true do-or-die game.