For the first time in nearly a decade the Tennessee Titans will enter training camp viewed by most as the prohibitive favorite to win the AFC South, which would end an eight-year playoff drought.
And no Titan deserves a crack at postseason success more than veteran tight end Delanie Walker.
Since joining the Titans via free agency in 2013, the former sixth round pick has been a pillar of consistency both on…and off the field.
Walker’s Tennessee debut in 2013 was solid. He hauled in 60 receptions with 6 touchdowns while catching passes from the likes of Jake Locker and backup Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Rember them? I digress.
But it was Walker’s actions off the field that year that laid the foundation for his current status as locker room leader.
After the season Walker joined the Midday 180 Show in Nashville and dropped a bombshell, alleging there were 6 or 7 locker room “cancers” that needed to see the door in order for the team to be successful.
And while he didn’t call anyone out by name, it is no coincidence that Tennessee parted ways with productive but sometimes troublesome players like Chris Johnson and Kenny Britt shortly thereafter.
Walker returned the following season with a target on his back for calling out his teammates, and responded by breaking beloved tight end Frank Wycheck’s franchise record for receiving yards in a season.
More impressively, he did so while the team endured its worst season (2-14) since relocating to Nashville.
That’s professionalism at it’s best.
With rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota under center in 2015 Walker exploded for 94 catches, 1,088 yards and 6 touchdowns. Not only did he lead all tight ends in receptions that season, but he also became just the ninth tight end in the history of the league to register at least 90 receptions in a single season.
As a result Walker was selected to his first Pro Bowl.
After breaking the franchise record for receiving yards by a tight end two years in a row, you would think that Walker would look for greener pastures on a playoff contender.
After all, he was coming off a historic year in the prime of his career…and his current team amassed just twelve wins in his three seasons there.
Instead, Walker agreed to an extension to remain a Titan in 2016. When asked for his reasoning behind the move he explained that Tennessee took a chance on him in 2013, so he would take a chance on them to turn things around before it was too late.
And in 2016 the Titans rewarded Walker’s loyalty with a remarkable 9-7 turnaround season, one in which they lost the division (and autmatic playoff berth) by a mere tie breaker to Houston.
Walker was certainly no bystander last season, however, earning a second straight Pro Bowl appearance with 65 receptions and a career-high 7 touchdowns.
It could be argued that Walker was one of, if not the lone bright spot during the darkest period in franchise history. He re-upped with the team when conventional wisdom cried against it, and continued to be a force in the community when the chips were down and morale was low among the fanbase.
Now armed with a playoff caliber supporting cast, the 12 year veteran out of Central Missouri State has a chance to finish what he started…to see a franchise go from worst to first in short order when all tangible evidence pointed against it.
And if the Titans live up to expectations this season, no one would be more deserving of a chance at postseason immortality than Delanie Walker.