Delanie Walker is a name surprisingly not-so-well known around the NFL, yet his talent and production suggests, at least to me, that he could be a starting tight end in the league. It's a known fact that he cannot block very well, but if a team was looking for a pass-catching tight end with a reliable backup blocker - I see no reason why someone could say he isn't a starter.
He has very reliable hands, perhaps his greatest asset is his ability to position himself to make a catch in traffic. Many times have I seen Walker seemingly covered well only to turn and pull a ball out of the air with his rather large, basketball-suited hands. Athletically, he's very fast as well, he is after-all, a converted wide receiver. Fellow tight end Vernon Davis has been quoted as saying that Delanie is just about as fast as he is. A pretty high compliment from VD, that one, as Davis might be our fastest offensive player (Ted Ginn Jr. begs to differ but I'm hesitant to call him a professional football player... low blow?)
Now, I have a lot to say about his abilities as a starter, but Delanie has almost next-to-nothing to mention on the subject. He's a very humble, gracious guy. Mike Singletary would call him a good soldier. Delanie doesn't get a whole lot of stats, and that's because the team has Vernon Davis in front of him. I'll get into more on what Delanie does to a defense a bit later, but for now, more on other things. Jump for more.
One might think that a player who appears that he can be a starter might feel a bit of jealousy when a pack of reporters surrounds his fellow player's locker after every game looking for quotables and things of that nature, but not Delanie.
He deserves it. A lot of people have tried to downplay him, but now they’re riding with him. I’m glad he’s doing his thing and I hope he makes it to the Pro Bowl.
That's a quote from Walker last year during Davis' emergence as one of the league's top tight ends. At that point, Walker had also begun to be used more in the offense, the 'spread' offense if you will. When the team spread out, Walker was on the field and was used primarily for some punishing YAC, he's a hard guy to bring down once he gets going.
In his younger days, Walker was a standout wide-receiver at Pomona High School and was named All-Region in his senior year. He was poised to have many scholarship offers, but eventually had his opportunity ruined by some troubles with the "wrong crowd". Walker's only option at this point was to enroll at Mt. San Antonio Community College in Los Angeles, where he played two seasons.
Eventually he garnered interest from Division-I schools again but ultimately squandered the opportunity again, though not entirely. He ended up receiving one last offer, from Central Missouri State, and after thinking it over for a long while (his reasons for not wanting to go was his family - he didn't want to leave them, especially with a son on the way), he eventually called back and asked to be on the team. He got there, and almost immediately there was some controversy as the coach who brought him in was let go.
Still, Walker pushed on through said controversy and ended up having a strong collegiate career, breaking every receiving record at the college and becoming a sixth round pick of our San Francisco 49ers. I don't need to describe what the process of being drafted was like, we've seen it on TV before - Walker and his family shared many hugs and shed many tears, and though he went two rounds later than he initially projected - Walker was happy being a 49er, and just thankful for the opportunity to play and thankful for the ability to support his family around him.
Upon joining the 49ers, after an initial discomfort when he found out he'd be playing tight end instead of wide receiver, but was immediately comfortable after meeting Vernon Davis. I have to think if these guys didn't come into the league at the same time and bond so closely from the get-go, Walker wouldn't be so gracious to be the backup tight end. Pretty classy stuff if you ask me.
He credits most of his development to tight ends coach Pete Hoener, who I think just might be the most underrated member of the 49ers coaching staff. The guy is loud and so far has made both Bear Pascoe and Nate Byham wet themselves. Either way...
Delanie provides a mismatch on defense. Most teams second tight end doesn't have the receiving skill he does. Linebackers and even nickle corners are placed on Walker, and more often then not, they try and wedge him in between a safety and a corner in zone coverage and it's pretty comical because he'll beat it every time. Even if he's not making a catch I cannot stress how much it means for the offense when Walker is out there on the field. How may second string tight ends get as much respect as he does from a defense? Not many.
Beyond his sure hands, his habit of being borderline impossible to bring down on the first hit and his mis-match for the defense, I'm going to go ahead and say that his blocking is a little bit underrated. He's not great in that regard by any means, but good enough to where utilizing his mismatch to make at least one rusher hesitate is enough to keep him on the field for a portion of running downs.
Beyond all of that as well, Delanie provides a solid body on special teams, playing on all of the coverage units and building up a solid number of tackles. He's not irreplaceable as a tackler on ST, but he is fast and solid in wrapping up on the solo tackles. He can also return kicks, it's not always pretty and it's not always the most exciting thing, but he remains one of the harder players to bring down on the team.
As I've said before these pieces aren't really to predict where a player will tie-into the 49ers gameplan in 2010, but I will say I hope Walker sticks around for a long time.