NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Rob Gronkowski fills the Internet with GIFs of his booming spikes after big play after big play. Delanie Walker toils in relative obscurity in Tennessee despite catching more passes this season than any other tight end in the NFL.
Losing will do that.
What it doesn’t do is prevent Walker from garnering the respect of colleagues.
“He’s definitely a great tight end,” Gronkwoski said Thursday of Walker. “He’s got a lot of athletic ability to make plays out there. It’s always good to see other tight ends being successful out there and making plays. Always just helps out the position. It’s good to see.”
A 10-year veteran, Walker has a career-best 74 catches for the woeful Titans (3-10). Walker called Gronkowski a “monster” as Tom Brady’s favorite target.
“He’s having a great year. Big plays, he plays with a high motor, makes plays when he needs to make them, and I think the Patriots … they lost a game when he wasn’t playing right?” Walker said. “He’s probably their key player.”
Gronkowski leads both the Patriots and all NFL tight ends with 1,018 yards receiving, which ranks 10th overall. These tight ends will face off Sunday when the Titans visit New England (11-2).
Both still produce despite being the focus of each opposing defense. Only five receivers have more touchdown catches than Gronkowski’s 10, and Walker has led or been tied for the team lead with his catches or yards receiving every game since September.
No NFL teams use their tight ends more than Tennessee and New England. The Titans have thrown a league-best 112 passes for 1,300 yards to their tight ends, while the Patriots rank second in each category with 87 for 1,297.
The Titans have needed Walker even more in recent weeks with wide receiver Justin Hunter on injured reserve with a broken foot and Kendall Wright missing four of the past six games.
Interim coach Mike Mularkey said opponents know Walker is rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota’s top target for the Titans (3-10).
“When you know we’re going to throw it, and you still can’t cover him, that says a lot about this guy,” Mularkey said. “If we had more production in other spots, his production could even be greater, but he’s doing a lot for this team.”
At 6-feet and 248 pounds, Walker is shorter and lighter than the 6-6, 266-pound Gronkowski, but both catch opposing coaches off guard. Linebackers usually are too slow to stay with them, while Walker and Gronkowski can mow over much lighter defensive backs.
Mularkey said defenders must know where Gronkowski lines up at all times and the Titans will be prepared to run a lot of bodies at him.
“Every team that I’ve seen him face has had a problem tackling him,” Mularkey said of Gronkowski.
The Titans move Walker around so much that finding him can be a challenge, and Patriots coach Bill Belichick said that makes it hard for one defender to handle the Tennessee tight end. Then Walker runs exactly what the Titans want from him.
“I can see why they throw it to him so much. It’s because he’s always open,” Belichick said. “Even when he’s covered, he’s open because of his length and his ability to go up and timing on jump balls and his hands, catching the ball away from his body. He does a really good job.”
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.