Delanie Walker: 'I'm the best tight end in the league'

There are those who peaked in high school, and there are those who bloomed later in life.

Consider Delanie Walker to be the latter.

Coming off another Pro Bowl campaign, which happened to be his third-best season in his career, the Central Missouri product is approaching 2018 with the highest confidence level possible.

"Honestly, I feel like I'm the best tight end in the league in all phases," Walker said, via the Tennessean. "Blocking, run blocking, catching the ball, breaking tackles, stuff like that. At the end of the day, if you don't feel like that you shouldn't be in the league."

Walker didn't break 30-plus receptions or six-plus touchdowns until his age-29 season of 2013. He didn't crack 800 yards receiving until he was 30 years old. But he was spending much of his time as a secondary option in a San Francisco offense that also included star tight end Vernon Davis.

All that blocking and lack of attention might have paid off for Walker, who's helped clear the way for a 1,200-yard rusher in DeMarco Murray (in 2016) and his successor, Derrick Henry. And that's the less-heralded half of his play. The tight end who was once a secondary option at best in San Francisco has grown into a bonafide star in Tennessee, catching at least 63 passes and recording 800 or more yards receiving in all but one of his five seasons with the Titans.

On a team that included Rishard Matthews, Eric Decker and rookie Corey Davis, it was Walker who led the Titans in receptions in 2017 with 74. He led them in receiving yards as well (807) and came one touchdown grab shy of tying with Matthews for the team lead.

Not bad for a 33-year-old.

"Traditionally, it's a young man's game," Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. "For him to be able to do what he's been doing -- and the thing that I appreciate and our coaching staff appreciates -- is he's not just relying on his reputation of what he's done in the league. ... He's a great example for our young players."

Those young players include Davis and second-year tight end Jonnu Smith, who will eventually replace Walker, who turns 34 in August. The veteran doesn't sound ready to give up his seat, though, which is fair, considering he's still highly productive -- so much that he saw a three-position rise in the Top 100 rankings, ascending from No. 75 in 2017 to No. 72 in 2018.

As the last few campaigns have proven, when the Titans come to town, attention must be paid to Walker. Coming off their surprising playoff victory last postseason, perhaps that attention will follow him, even when the Titans aren't in your nearest NFL city.

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