Off season buzz has gravitated towards the state of Nashville with increasing pairs of eyes looking forward to the ‘exotic smashmouth’ era. DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry will be the main focal point of this run-first attack featuring Marcus Mariota and a cast of unknown wide receivers.
But the real X-Factor lies at the tight end position. At the ripe age of 32 and entering his 11th NFL season Delanie Walker finds himself in the position of offensive linchpin.
It is accurate to say that Mariota will be the spark to ignite the brash new wave of offense in Tennessee but he will need a wing man, a Robin to his Batman. That guy is Walker.
Walker finished the 2015 season with 94 receptions for 1,088 and six touchdowns. A fine career year for a player who seemed destined to watch his talent dribble down the talent gutter after years of playing on a bad team or simply being underused.
The biggest thing for a quarterback is trust. Aaron Rodgers has it with Jordy Nelson, Tom Brady has it with Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski and Mariota has it with Walker. A safety net bailing out the young, dynamic passer should he need it.
What will see Walker blossom further in 2016 is the offense being more balanced and he being hugely involved in the run game.
It is hard to envision Walker replicating his 133 targets as it is clear the Titans do not want to be throwing the ball a lot. However less targets does not necessarily mean less yards or touchdowns. Walker can do much more with better quality targets.
The former San Francisco man led all tight ends in receptions with 94. The closest to him was Washington Redskins stud Jordan Reed with 87. However Reed had five more scores – proof that less can sometimes mean more.
Gary Barnidge was third in receptions amongst tight ends with 79, 15 less than Walker, yet only finished 43 yards behind the Titans all-rounder. However Barnidge finished with nine scores – three more than Walker. Less is more.
Walker only had one 100 yard game in 2015 but had five games of over 90 yards. It is very possible, that with a better quality of targets going his way, Walker can convert those 90+ yard games into 100 yard outings and if he does that and tops 1,100 yards suddenly, at 32-years-old, Walker will be considered an elite pass catcher at his position.
What makes the man out of Central Missouri so valuable is his ability to block, create lanes and get to the second level to pick up another block.
In the age of a passing league, the ball accumulating more air miles than Richard Branson, many forget that being able to block is still part of a tight end’s job. If you can do both – then you are even more valuable than a tight end who can only do one.
Walker will help the Titans foster the ‘exotic smashmouth’ brainchild that the Nashville team want to introduce us all to. Tennessee finished 25th in rushing last season. Averaging 92.8 yards per game. With an improved run game, offensive line and Walker helping out blocking that number should go way up and could be a rushing attack in the top half of the league.
Lovers of statistics and fantasy football numbers will only be interested in Walker’s yards and touchdown numbers and in that regard Walker will be hugely appreciated and he is poised to register back to back 1,000 yard seasons and see his touchdown potential rise.
However, a large part of Walker’s game will go unnoticed in the box score but his contributions will be felt as he propels himself into the elite tight end conversation who can do it all.