Last Monday’s 24-3 win over the Arizona Cardinals was the epitome of a Delanie Walker performance as a receiver. Alex Smith’s only incompletion on a night where he went 18-for-19 came on a drop by Walker. Not just a drop, but a pretty obvious example of an easy catch missed because Walker’s eyes turned upfield a split second early. However, he also made a circus catch on the sideline on a pass tipped by Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington.
Two plays that showed exactly why fans can get so frustrated with Walker — a former wide receiver in college who doesn’t receive as much attention as tight end Vernon Davis or receivers Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham or Randy Moss, Walker gets open fairly often, and seems to excel as a receiver when the degree of difficulty increases. Then he’ll drop an easy pass with nothing but green in front of him.
Walker has dropped four passes this year according to Pro Football Focus. Not bad compared to other tight ends, considering Jimmy Graham has eight drops and Jermichael Finley and Jason Witten both have seven. Except Finley’s been targeted the fewest times (45) and Walker has been targeted only 16 times. A 25% drop rate is pretty terrible, but that only tells the surface story when it comes to Walker.
Ruthless Sports Guy already wrote a post in defense of all that Walker does, so I’m not going to go into detail about how the WR-turned-TE-turned-FB contributes as a blocker and decoy. Instead I asked Greg Roman about Walker, and here is what he said:
How would you analyze Delanie Walker’s performance so far this year?
“Outstanding. Delanie, I call him Mr.Do-It-All. Not afraid to admit it. He does a tremendous amount in our run game, pass game, everything. He does it all. He carries a lot on his plate week in and week out and we rely on him a lot. He’s a very dependable football player. Again, another guy that loves football, comes to work every day with a smile on his face and a great attitude ready to go. Great player.”
Ruthless did a nice job of detailing all the different ways Walker lined up and helped out in the running game in the 49ers’ win over the Detroit Lions. What sticks out in my mind about Walker, at least since Jim Harbaugh and Roman took control of the offense, is how he came back last year.
The timing couldn’t have been worse. Walker had become an integral part of the running game for a team whose only true fullback, Bruce Miller (who played defensive end in college), suffered a concussion a month earlier. Only one more week left in the regular season, and Walker’s availability in the playoffs was in serious doubt.
Walker missed the NFC Divisional Round win over the New Orleans Saints, but made it back to the field in time for the Title Game. In a contest where the wide receivers amassed all of one reception for three yards and Vernon Davis garnered most of the attention for obvious reasons, Walker was the team’s third-leading receiver in that game behind Davis and Frank Gore, with two catches for 36 yards. And as usual, Walker contributed as a blocker to a rushing game that accumulated 150 yards on 28 carries against New York.
In one of the most frustrating games in 49ers history, Walker’s courageous performance was one of the highlights I struggled to take solace in as I trudged with my family through a puddle-filled Candlestick Park parking lot in the dark.
Walker isn’t a perfect player, but to expect him to be the same type of receiver as Davis isn’t fair. Not with the extra responsibilities Walker has taken on in the backfield and the classroom. For a guy who said that as a rookie he told his agent he didn’t think he had it in him to be a tight end, Walker’s game has expanded in ways he surely never thought possible. If he caught every pass thrown his way, more people would consider him to be what he probably is anyway — a great player.
Then again, since the current offensive coordinator for the 49ers (and future head coach somewhere else, unfortunately) already thinks of Walker this way, that should be good enough for the rest of us.