We're right about to the end of our individual player grades, and free agency is right around the corner. There's still a couple of significant players to go though, and one of them is likely going to do a whole lot better than the other when it comes to voting. Let's just say I'm eager to see the mass reaction to Kyle Williams in his grading post, but first we've got someone who is perhaps a little ... less controversial.
I'm talking about Delanie Walker, the most useful of the 49ers players with the last name that begins with a 'W', and not even Tony Wragge's mom will try and argue with that. The biggest difference between how we view Walker now and how we viewed him a year ago is the fact that the 49ers may actually be looking to replace him this offseason. A lot has been said about drafting a tight end in the first round - a certain man who Jim Harbaugh may be interested in.
The replacement wouldn't be out of necessity, but the timing really couldn't be better for said rookie. Not only is Vernon Davis coming off of what is something of a lackluster season (playoffs notwithstanding), Walker struggled a lot early on and disappeared for long stretches of time. In fact, if there's one thing that Harbaugh and Greg Roman didn't deliver on, it was the promise of a dynamic, tight-end driven offense in the passing game. Davis was absolutely useless for a large portion of the time and suffered much regression, while Walker was just about invisible.
It's harsh, but it's also the truth - Walker's stats were pitiful given his skillset, even taking into consideration the fact that this is not a high-flying offense. He's supposed to be a playmaker who can make things happen by catching defenses off-guard. But he dropped passes and, more than that, he simply wasn't as open as he has been in past seasons. He doesn't seem to be slowing down, so I'm not quite sure what the problem is.
One odd thing about Walker that's a definite positive is that he did seem more complete. His blocking improved by leaps and bounds, he became a force in the h-back role, making exceptionally punishing blocks out in space. Once Walker got going, he hit guys hard and was fundamentally sound in his blocking, something that hasn't been the case for him for a long time. He's always been too small of frame to really do any damage.
Walker now has viable cause to remain on the roster as a potential emergency fill-in at fullback, but it's still disappointing that he wasn't able to deliver any tangible results in the receiving game. The guy deserves another shot next season, but for the first time, we're actually looking at the backup tight end position as one that can be upgraded.