Delanie Walker suffered a horrific ankle injury Sunday. Per Ian Rapaport, it’s likely we’ve seen the last of Walker for this season. Walker’s injury will impact everyone from Marcus Mariota to Dion Lewis. His injury could also affect the Titans’ plans for the tight end position going forward. We’ll examine all the possible repercussions below.
#Titans TE Delanie Walker suffered a dislocated ankle in today’s loss vs the #Dolphins, I’m told. There was also an associated fracture. His season is almost certainly over, a tough injury for an underrated and productive player.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) September 10, 2018
Over the last five seasons, Delanie Walker has been as consistent as any tight end in football. He’s averaged 107 targets, 71 receptions, 831 yards and 5.2 touchdowns per season. As a fantasy asset, Walker has finished as the TE4, TE5, TE3, TE8, and TE11 over the previous five seasons. As productive as Walker has been these last five seasons it doesn’t mean that the Titans might not look to move on from him after this season.
Walker will turn 35 years-old before the start of the 2019 season. Though Walker did just sign an extension, he can be released after this season with a dead cap hit of only $3.3 million. An aging player, recovering from injury, with a salary of $6.79 million, is just the type of player that NFL teams look to jettison. The Titans could decide they’d be better served by releasing Walker. This would allow them to reallocate the $3.4 million in cap savings into more pressing areas of need. If the Titans are to release Walker, they’ll need our next player to have a successful season.
To call Smith a physical marvel might be underselling his attributes. Smith is 92nd percentile SPARQ-x athlete. He produced immediately at the collegiate level, breaking out at age 18, and continued that dominance the entirety of his college career finishing with a 91st percentile College Dominator rating. His college production and physical abilities led the Titans to select him in the third round of the 2017 NFL draft. Smith was lightly used in 2017, only playing on the 52.2% of the Titans offensive plays and he only saw 30 targets on the season. Walker had a 77.2% snap share and saw 111 targets in 2017.
It’s impossible to state that new Titans O.C. Matt Lafleur plans (or planned) to continue to highly target the tight position, but he has spoken of making sure Marcus Mariota is comfortable in his offensive scheme. Mariota targeted Walker over 100 times per season in his two full seasons as the starting quarterback, making it plain that Mariota is comfortable using his tight end. Before leaving the game due to injury, Walker saw seven targets, while Smith had three of his own. Considering Lafleur’s words and Sunday’s (small) sample size, it’s reasonable to assume the tight end will continue to be featured in the Titans scheme. Smith’s college production, physical attributes, draft capital, and opportunity all point to him being able to fill the void left behind by Walker. If Smith fails to produce at TE1 levels, I would be shocked.
After an injury-plagued and largely disappointing rookie season, Davis is expected to produce in his second year. Without the security that Walker provided to Mariota, those expectations will not lessen. Davis saw 13 targets on Sunday but could only convert six of those into 62 yards. After a 2017 season that saw Davis catch 52.3% of his targets (81st) and 67.7 of his catchable targets (also 81st), Sunday was an inauspicious start to the season.
Regardless of Walker’s injury, Davis was going to be targeted at a much higher clip than his 5.9 targets in 2017, but he needs to become more efficient with the targets, or he’ll never live up to his WR1 billing. It’s way too soon to hit the panic button on Davis, and the loss of Walker should provide him every opportunity to succeed in 2018. If any league mates are looking to panic-sell on Davis, now is the time to strike.
Rishard Matthews/Taywan Taylor
Taylor had a miserable day Sunday with 0 receptions on one target. Matthews somehow did worse with zero targets on 30 snaps. Walker’s injury should free up some additional targets for one or both of these players. Though Taylor is the apple of the dynasty eye, I’d take Matthews’poor outing as a chance to buy low on him. Matthews missed the entire preseason with a knee injury/contract holdout and will need some time to learn the new offense. On just 87 targets last season, Matthews was able to finish as the WR33, and he should see a comparable amount of targets in 2018 with the vacated Walker targets available.
Dion Lewis is the back to own in Tennessee. That has nothing to do with Delanie Walker’s injury, but it’s something that needed to be said. Lewis out-touched, out-snapped and outproduced Derrick Henry Sunday and this injury changes nothing.
Tennessee Titans #RBBC
Since early offseason and especially after today, Lewis is the one you want to own in PPR
— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) September 10, 2018
Unless the Titans decide to move Derrick Henry to tight end, he’ll continue to be out-targeted by Lewis on a weekly basis. I still have legitimate concerns about Lewis’ durability, but I think counting on 5-10 weekly targets for Lewis is reasonable.
Oh yeah, the Titans had one more injury of note on Sunday. Mariota was forced from the game with an elbow injury to his throwing arm. Assuming the injury isn’t significant, the loss of his favorite target is the biggest concern for Mariota. Walker was either the 1st or 2nd most targeted player every season of Mariota’s career thus far. Though it may mostly be myth, Mariota to Walker seemed to speak to the relationship young QBs have with their tight ends. Mariota still has plenty of options available to him, but the loss of his most trusted weapon can’t be discounted.
If Corey Davis can become a more efficient player with his targets. Or Jonnu Smith can provide a reasonable facsimile of Walker. If Dion Lewis can remain healthy for an entire season. Or if Rishard Matthews and Taywan Taylor can produce well beyond what they showed this week, then Mariota can still move into the elite tier of quarterback that I believe him to be.
Thank you for reading. You can find me on Twitter @DFF_Shane.
Also, make sure you check out the DynastyTradesHQ podcast. Find us on iTunes, Google Play Music, Stitcher, and PodBean. Please make sure you rate and review! You can find us on Twitter @DynastyTradesHQ.