NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Delanie Walker set his goal during the offseason -- 80 catches for the 2014 season.
There was no mathematical equation to land on that magic number, just a 'vision' as Walker recalled.
"Once I found out that coach [Ken] Whisenhunt was coming, I knew what type of offense he ran," he said, noting Antonio Gates' success in San Diego under Whisenhunt in 2013. "I had a vision that in his scheme I could get 80 catches. Sometimes when you feel that way it comes true. I'm on the right path so it was a good vision."
Walker caught 60 passes in his first season with the Titans a year ago, so who was to argue this year's goal was too lofty? Now in his ninth NFL season, the veteran tight end is trending toward the potential he's always been capable of.
After five games this season, Walker's 26 catches for 364 yards and three touchdowns had him on pace to comfortably surpass the benchmark he set for himself. That pace mapped out to 83.2 catches for 1,164.8 yards and 9.6 touchdowns to be exact – all of which would be Titans franchise records for a tight end.
Those stats would also nearly eclipse the numbers Walker posted in his first NFL seven seasons combined. Walker had 123 receptions for 1,465 yards and eight touchdowns in seven campaigns with the San Francisco 49ers.
San Francisco selected Walker in the sixth round of the 2006 NFL Draft as a wide receiver out of division II Central Missouri St. before converting him to tight end. At 6-foot-1 and a built frame of well over 200 pounds, Walker was scouted as a fullback's body with sprinter's speed. From carrying the ball, to returning kicks, Walker did it all.
That didn't change in the NFL. In addition to Walker, San Francisco also used the sixth-overall pick on tight end Vernon Davis. That meant Walker had to get creative in order to increase his snap count.
"It was a learning experience," he said. "I was being a sponge, trying to learn the game as a tight end and how to block defensive linemen. The 49ers gave me an opportunity to build; they kept me on the team so I could understand the philosophy of the offense."
Walker returned kicks – 31 in all for 528 yards – and even carried the ball as a fullback 11 times for 44 yards.
Versatility became his key to the field.
"I ultimately became a Swiss army knife where I could play any position," Walker said proudly of his dynamic abilities. "I told them whatever it takes, I'll do it to get on the field. If they told me to learn something, I'd learn it and I'd take advantage."
After the 2012 season, Walker readied himself to be a free agent with one goal and one goal only – to be a team's focal point at tight end.
"As my years with the 49ers went on, I felt like I could be a starting tight end in the NFL," he explained. "A lot of teams recognized me, but they didn't really know me because we always had Vernon Davis in San Francisco. I told the 49ers that I'm a number one tight end and I wanted to find a team where I'd get that opportunity."
Walker met with a number of teams as most free agents do, but he left Nashville with an offer he couldn't refuse – one that had little to do with dollars and cents.
"The Titans told me, 'You will be the number one tight end. If you come in and show what you showed with the 49ers then you will be the number one tight end.' You can't bypass something like that," Walker said.
Titans Online looks back at the 2013 season of veteran tight end Delanie Walker. (Photos: Donn Jones, AP)
The Titans were rewarded by their investment in Walker, who became the first Titans tight end to haul in 60 passes in a season since Frank Wycheck in 2001. Those 60 catches for 571 yards and six touchdowns were easily career bests for Walker (nearly doubling all of his previous marks of 29 receptions, 344 yards, and three touchdowns).
It's rare to see a veteran 'break out' in his eighth NFL season, but Walker has certainly shown that age is just a number.
"I don't feel 30. I get that a lot, people saying 'You're 30 and now you're showing up.' I feel like I could have done this if I had the opportunity a while back," he said. "I could have been a tight end that people looked at, but I have the opportunity now and I'm going to take advantage of it."
Walker is a prime example of how no two NFL careers are the same. Some guys get their shot the second they step into the league. Others, like Walker, wait patiently until it's their turn for the limelight. He doesn't waste the time and energy thinking what might have been, only what's yet to come.
"I wish I had this opportunity when I was 25, but I still feel like I have a few years in me that I can perform at this level. I'm thankful that the Titans organization and coaches have given me this opportunity," Walker said.
The Titans have leaned on their tight end amidst the offensive struggles at the outset of the season. Walker has been the offense's prominent figure and most consistent playmaker. Not even a nagging shoulder injury has been able to slow down the tight end.
Walker serves as one of the many veterans inside the Titans locker room, each with their unique leadership style. It's no cliché to Walker; leading by example is what he says he does best.
"Anyone can tell you from high school to college, I was never the guy to yell and scream. I just show up on Sundays," Walker said. "I feel like pads speak louder than your mouth so I let my pads talk. "I feel like what I'm doing is the way to motivate guys," he continued. "I come and show up to make plays and help the team win. When guys see that, I think they buy into that philosophy that you don't have to talk you just have to show up. When you play well, people recognize that and you win games."