As I indicated in my post on Andy Levitre, the Titans didn’t waste any time in free agency, signing first Andy Levitre and then Delanie Walker. I am particularly excited about Walker since I called repeatedly for it to happen. Hey, I’m human that way.
The Titans made it clear they wanted to keep Jared Cook but that deal always seemed like a long-shot as his expectations were high (he would ultimately get a 5 year $35.1 million deal with $19 million guaranteed from Jeff Fisher’s Rams with an additional money available through incentives) and his interest in remaining with the Titans low (he complained about his role during the 2012 season). Enter Delanie Walker the former Niner who labored under the shadow of Vernon Davis in San Francisco.
Within hours of the new league year, the Titans had also “inked” a deal with the former Niner, signing him to a 4 year, $17.5 million dollar contract with $8.6 million of it guaranteed. At a $4.375 million per year average, the Titans paid a lot less and in my opinion got a player who better fits what they do and need. Bonus? He wants to be here and that can’t be overstated. Why do I think he fits what the Titans do better? Let’s take a look.
The Titans have always used their tight ends and they tend to get a ton of snaps. Just take a look at the Titans offensive summaries since Jared Cook was drafted in the 2009 NFL Draft in the 3rd round (pick 89), trading their 2010 2nd round pick for the opportunity to trade up and draft him.
As the saying goes, numbers don’t lie and the numbers say that tight ends do work here. While the Titans generally have the so called “blocking” tight end and the “receiving” tight end having a guy who can do both is really optimal and allows you more flexibility. The expectation was that Cook’s blocking would improve along with his receiving abilities and while he improved in both areas he never really made it past the “hump.”
In 4 years with the Titans, Cook played 1434 snaps and totaled 131 receptions out of 214 targets for 1,717 yards and 8 touchdowns. He averaged 13.1 yards per catch and lost 3 fumbles. He generally lost playing time in 2012 because he blocking wasn’t very good and the Titans needed help on the offensive line so they utilized their tight ends who could block better.
On the other hand, Delanie Walker was drafted in the 6th round of the 2006 draft (175th) by the Niners and has never played for another team. He has 123 receptions on 213 targets for 1,465 yards and 8 touchdowns. That yields an 11.9 yard per catch average and he has also lost 3 fumbles.
Not only are the numbers not that dissimilar, but what is more telling is that Jared Cook has never ranked above Delanie Walker on PFF’s rankings of tight ends as you can see from the graphics below. Now in all fairness Cook didn’t produce enough stats to warrant inclusion in 2009 and 2010, still he should have easily eclipsed a second string tight end playing behind Vernon Davis yet he didn’t.
2009 TIGHT END RANKINGS PER PFF
2010 TIGHT END RANKINGS PER PFF
2011 TIGHT END RANKINGS PER PFF
2012 TIGHT END RANKINGS PER PFF
The one knock against Walker is that he made PFF’s list of top drop rates in 2012 with 9. Jared Cook had 5 but I do recall disagreeing during the season on their evaluation of his drops versus uncatchable balls. It should be noted that fellow teammate, and starter Vernon Davis, made the top 10 drop rate going back 3 years however at 10.7% or 24 drops. ProFootball Focus
According to Football Outsiders, in 2012 Jared Cook had a catch rate of 61% while Delanie Walker had a catch rate of 54%. In 2011, Cook had a catch rate of 60% and Walker a catch rate of 56%. Both guys fared MUCH better in 2010 where Cook had a catch rate of 64% while Walker had a catch rate of 65%. In 2009 Cook had a catch rate of 60% and Walker had a catch rate of 64%. Football Outsiders
Overall, the numbers just aren’t staggeringly different although you do have to be somewhat concerned about the downward trend in catch rate for Walker. Still, its hard sometimes for a guy coming cold off the bench to get a rhythm and you just have to hope the trend goes back to where it was in 2009 and 2010. The blocking improvement should counterbalance that as well as you get a more rounded tight end who can line up and play multiple positions and allow you some flexibility at the position.