Let's Give Delanie Walker the Credit He Deserves
Fine wine gets better with age. Or so that's what I've heard.
But does wine really get better as it ages, or do we just refuse to give it the chance it deserves while it's younger?
Like wine, Delanie Walker continues to improve yearly with age. Before becoming the starter in Tennessee, he was the backup to Vernon Davis in San Francisco for seven years, as they both entered the league in 2006.
Walker showed promise behind Davis, and now he's taking advantage of his starting opportunity in Tennessee. However, once again, Walker is being overlooked. Perhaps this time because he plays for a middling Titans squad.
Walker has played in 41 games while in Tennessee. In that time, he's accrued 190 receptions for 2,261 yards and 14 touchdowns. On a yards per game basis, Walker only trails tight end royalty of Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, and Greg Olsen during his Tennessee stint.
Digging into our Net Expected Points (NEP) metrics, Walker shines through as a consistent tight end.
In 2013, 38 tight ends had at least 40 targets. In the group, Walker finished 11th in Reception NEP (55.36), 17th in Reception NEP per target (0.64), and 15th in Reception Success Rate (86.67%). Last year, Walker finished 11th in Reception NEP (63.69), 17th in Reception NEP per target (0.61), and 17th in Reception Success Rate (82.54%) among 32 tight ends with at least 40 targets.
This year, Walker has 67 receptions for 800 yards and 4 touchdowns. He's having a career year while on pace for his first 1,000-yard season, and has the fourth most yards for tight ends behind Gronkowski, Olsen, and Gary Barnidge.
While Walker's NEP metrics were consistent but not the most impressive in his first two years with Tennessee, they have shown an improvement this year. He finally has stability at the quarterback position because the Titans drafted Marcus Mariota.
This year, 34 tight ends have at least 30 targets to date. With Mariota at the helm, Walker is 4th in Reception NEP (66.26), 6th in Reception NEP per target (0.77), and 13th in Reception Success Rate (83.58%).
Now, with Mariota, Walker leads the group of tight ends in catch rate (77.91%). Walker already is posting career bests in Reception NEP, Reception NEP per target, and catch rate as he continues to improve with age.
Walker is signed through 2016 with Tennessee, which should give him another year of this impressive production. If Tennessee re-signs him, then he should continue to maintain his production until he wears down.
While only Tony Gonzalez posted a 1,000-yard season after turning 31, tight ends like Antonio Gates and Jason Witten have maintained numbers similar to their career-long production in smaller roles when healthy.
Walker has an advantage over all older tight ends, though, as he wasn't beaten down as a backup in San Francisco. This could help him maintain production longer than other tight ends have when they have aged previously.
In terms of fantasy implications, Walker is projected as our third-ranked tight end from here on out.
With consistent statistical production as a starter, Walker deserves praise reserved for some of the top tight ends.