Few people thought the Tennessee Titans would beat the Jacksonville Jaguars in their week 17 win-and-you’re-in game.
Fewer people thought the Titans would beat the Kansas City Chiefs in Arrowhead Stadium in the wild-card round last weekend.
And no one believes they can defeat the defending champion New England Patriots, in Foxborough, in the divisional round this weekend.
While the stage is new for 95% of the players in Tennessee’s locker room, the lack of respect isn’t…especially for their team captain, veteran leader, and best offensive weapon…tight end Delanie Walker.
Don’t believe me? Just ask him.
After Tennessee defeated Houston to improve to 8-4 several weeks ago, Walker went off when speaking to ESPN’s Cameron Wolfe about the lack of notoriety and respect he receives from the media and his peers.
“I’m very disrespected in the league. Commentators, announcers, they don’t talk about me. I get double and triple coverage. I’m still making plays. Nobody talks about that.”
He went on to add…
“That drives me. Don’t talk about me. That makes me hungry. They talk about Gronk, Kelce, but not me. I do it every week. They don’t talk about Delanie Walker.”
And before you dismiss his comments as just another selfish diva-receiver rant…he has a point.
Walker has been one of the league’s elite tight ends since signing with the Titans as a free agent in 2013. He has at least 60 receptions in each of his five seasons in Tennessee, and led all tight ends in receptions (94) in 2015.
Walker has never finished outside of the top 10 in tight end production since arriving in Nashville and becoming the number one option, and earned back to back Pro Bowl nods in 2015 and 2016.
More impressive is the fact that he’s done so with journyman quarterbacks, rookie quarterbacks, and a lack of talent at the surrounding skill positions to aleviate the constant double and triple teams thrown at him each and every week.
Yet and still, when the casual NFL fan talks about the league’s elite at his position, Walker is rarely…if ever mentioned.
The organization that employs him is partly to blame, because the Titans have been the league’s doormat for much of his tenure there. No one wants to watch a perennial loser in the high-profile prime time slots, so Walker’s resume has been stuck under a pile of paperwork the last few years.
But that all changes this week as the Titans are playing in the Saturday night prime time slot against the juggernaut Patriots, on national television (CBS), with millions of eyeballs glued to the set.
Standing across the field from him will be Rob Gronkowski, the league’s gold-standard for tight ends and future first ballot Hall of Fame inductee. The 2017 First-Team All pro embodies everything Walker aspires to be…well respected and a champion multiple times over.
As the old saying goes…to be the man you have to beat the man. Gronk’s legend grew in games of this magnitude, and Walker will need to have the game of his life if David is to somehow take down Goliath.
If he does, and the Titans pull the upset, then Walker will have respect, notoriety, and adulation in abundance.
The final sentence of Walker’s rant from two months ago could prove cryptic as he ended with….
“But the Titans are going to be talked about his year.”
People are talking about the Titans now, Delanie. Respect is there for the taking.
You have the stage, now the rest is up to you.