Don't Overlook Delanie Walker in Fantasy Football This Year
On the surface, Delanie Walker doesn’t fit the mold of the average NFL tight end. He stands 6’0” and weighs 248 pounds, below the NFL player specifications outlined at SprayberryFootball.com, which suggests scouts are looking for a player standing 6’3” and weighing 250 pounds.
Walker finished 2013 as a TE1 despite his below-average measurables though (the average measurables of the other 11 tight ends was 6’4”, 255 pounds), proving the old adage that the size of the fight in the dog is indeed more important than the size of the dog.
So how did this widely overlooked, former sixth-round pick out of Central Missouri make such an impact last year?
Jake Locker vs. Ryan Fitzpatrick
It's true that the success of pass-catchers is largely dependent on the man chucking the rock. Jake Locker started seven games for the Titans in 2013, leaving early due to injury in two of those starts. Walker wasn't a major force in Locker’s starts, accumulating only 17 receptions on 25 targets for 178 yards and three touchdowns. He only saw more than five targets once in Locker-led games, and didn’t eclipse 52 yards receiving with the Titans' 2014 starter under center.
With Ryan Fitzpatrick operating as the Titans’ primary signal-caller, Walker saw a huge uptick in receptions and targets (43 and 61, respectively), gaining 393 yards and scoring three touchdowns. He was targeted five or more times in seven contests, and amassed 52 receiving yards on three separate occasions. Clearly, Walker became a larger part of the offense with a backup quarterback leading the charge.
You can also see the difference in Passing Net Expected Points between the two quarterbacks, our metric for quantifying a player’s success adding points for his team:
|Quarterback||Passing NEP||Per Drop Back||Pass Success Rate|
Fitzpatrick had a larger sample size, but he clearly outperformed Locker in Passing NEP, with a slightly larger Success Rate, which measures the percentage of passes that contribute positively towards a player's NEP. It should be noted that Fitzpatrick’s Total NEP, factoring in rushing as well, was 54.70 to Locker’s 26.15, or slightly above the average of 53.90 for all quarterbacks with a positive NEP. Quite simply, Fitzpatrick was the better quarterback last year, and that benefited Walker directly.
Walker vs. His Positional Contemporaries
As far as raw ability and the “eye test” go, Walker isn't in the same league as Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski, widely considered the two most desirable tight ends in fantasy football. Graham finished 2013 as the ninth-best positional player in standard fantasy football scoring, seventh overall in NEP, and led all tight ends in Net Expected Points as well. Gronkowski had an injury-plagued 2013, but has the highest single-season Net Expected Points total among tight ends over the last ten years (2011). Clearly these are the standards by which the rest of the position is judged.
We saw 12 tight ends scored 90 or more standard fantasy points last season, and Walker was one of them. His final numbers don’t jump off the page, but a deeper dive into numberFire analytics shows that Walker was extremely efficient when the ball was thrown in his direction.
He finished 12th among tight ends in Total NEP at 55.36, two-and-a-half times the average NEP (20.58) of 112 tight ends. He was ninth overall in Target NEP, which measures the number of points added by a player on all targets, which was ahead of positional favorites like Jordan Cameron, Martellus Bennett, Kyle Rudolph, and Charles Clay.
A solid 52 of Walker’s 60 receptions were considered “successes”, and his Success Rate of 86.67% was fourth among tight ends with at least 60 receptions, and seventh among those with at least 45 receptions. Finally, his catch rate (receptions divided by targets) of 69.77% ranked second among tight ends with 60 or more catches last year, and third among those with 45 or more catches.
When Walker had the ball in his hands, he was successful at helping his team add points to the scoreboard.
But What Is Walker’s Value?
According to FantasyFootballCalculator.com's average draft position data, Walker is going undrafted in 12-team standard drafts, and in the 14th round (pick 186.5) in 14-team standard drafts.
The fact that he finished tied for eighth at the position last season in touchdowns, 12th in targets and 10th in catches makes him a roster-worthy commodity. Stability, consistency, and efficiency are traits to look for in your bench players, and I highly recommend drafting Walker late in drafts as a relative steal. The 2013 numbers were so modest, yet in the top tier, making him a candidate to surpass previous production, even with a quarterback who may not favor him as much.