Could Delanie Walker Be The Key To Your Fantasy Championship?
If you’re reading this, you’ve most likely survived round one of your league’s fantasy playoffs, or at the very least you’re getting ready for round one. Either way, it’s do or die time in the world of fantasy football. At this point in the season, the chances of finding a guy on the waiver wire who will help you win cash and bragging rights with your buddies is about as likely as finding a 49ers fan in Seattle. But, if you’re lucky enough to be in a league where a guy with a couple of great matchups is still available, now is the time to pounce on him.
Sure, telling you this guy historically has a set of the worst hands in the business, or that his quarterback is Ryan Fitzpatrick, isn’t exactly making him look like a home run, but if the tight end position is one that you’re weak at, a healthy Delanie Walker could be a player who pushes you into your league’s championship.
It’s All About Matchups
In football one thing’s for certain: matchups rule. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about your alma mater’s jayvee team, or Monday Night Football, favorable matchups win football games. The same is true for fantasy. Smart fantasy players research, calculate the odds, and play guys that maximize their chances at points. Walker is that guy for the next two weeks. This week he gets every NFL tight end’s best friend.
On the year, no team has given up more points to opposing tight ends than the Arizona Cardinals. Through 13 games, the NFC West dark horse has given up an average of 21 points to tight ends in point per reception leagues, and 15 points per game in standard leagues. While those are very alluring stats, they’re not even the most tempting stat of all. With still three games to go in 2013, the Cardinals have given up a whopping 14 touchdowns to tight ends. Here are the stat lines for all tight ends versus the Cardinals this year:
|Week||Opponent||TE Recs||TE Yds||TE TDs|
Those stats could be even worse. Consider this: in Week 1 Jared Cook was on his way to his first score of the day before Tyrann Mathieu came in to make a spectacular play, erasing a sure touchdown and another ten yards. Is it really any wonder that so many people – this writer included – were so high on Jared Cook to start the year? The guy has shown flashes of talent his entire career, and in Week 1 it looked as if the stars aligned for the former Titan. In reality, it was nothing more than matchups doing what matchups do: making guys look a lot better than they actually are.
If you play daily fantasy sports on sites such as FanDuel.com, you’ve surely cleaned up this year if you started tight ends that played the Cardinals. Sure, in redraft and dynasty leagues guys like Vernon Davis and Jimmy Graham won’t be on the waiver wire, but in daily fantasy sports that’s not a problem. In most standard leagues guys like Zach Ertz, Zach Miller, and Brent Celek were probably available, so there were still a lot of tight end options to consider when the Cards were on the schedule.
Take a look at tight end stats versus the Cardinals in these league formats:
|Points Per Game||18.26||15.03||21.49|
The evidence is there: playing the Cardinals means your tight end has a very good chance of producing.
There are a couple of other factors working in Walker’s favor this week, one which is the Cardinals loss of Mathieu for the season. Mathieu tore both his ACL and LCL last Sunday and is likely to miss not only the rest of this season, but also most also the beginning of next season. By all accounts Honey Badger was having a pro-bowl caliber season, while also possibly playing himself into defensive rookie of the year. He currently ranks as Pro Football Focus’ second highest rated cornerback overall – behind only Darrelle Revis, and just ahead of teammate Patrick Peterson – and he’s graded positively in all four PFF cornerback categories: pass rush, coverage, versus the run, and penalty.
Arizona has a very good defense – ranking seventh overall by PFF standards, as well as second overall in pass coverage – but do not doubt the negative impact losing Mathieu will have on the Cardinals. The third round prospect wasn’t expected to be such a big contributor right away, but the Cardinals defense has befitted from his play immensely. On the year Mathieu has six passes defensed, two interceptions, 63 tackles, and 12 quarterback disruptions. The guy is just plain good at everything, and that fact that he won’t be on the field Sunday makes Walker’s matchup that much more enticing.
Clean Up Time
Any 49ers fan can tell you that Walker struggles with holding on to the ball during his time in San Francisco. In fact, Walker had the worst hands in football for any receiver – including wide receivers and running backs – in 2012. The former Vernon Davis understudy dropped a whopping 30 percent of all catchable balls thrown his way last season. 2013, however, has been a much different story. On the year Walker has cleaned that up to a much more respectable 8.16 percent, and has dropped just four of the 49 catchable balls thrown his way. The Titans would love to see that number go down even more, but it’s a vast improvement over 2012, and it makes him even more trustworthy going into the last few games of the NFL season.
The Hurt Locker
I wrote a piece back in October explaining all the reasons Ryan Fitzpatrick was good for Chris Johnson’s value, especially in PPR leagues. In the seven games Fitzpatrick has played a significant amount of snaps, Johnson has totaled 527 yards, 5 touchdowns, and 24 receptions – a healthy 15.24 points per game average in PPR leagues. Fitzpatrick has also benefitted Walker, albeit to a lesser degree.
In the five games both Walker and Fitzpatrick have played significant time in, Walker has accumulated 27 receptions for 271 yards and two touchdowns. Over a full 16 game slate that equals out to a respectable 86 receptions, 867 yards, and 6.5 touchdowns. In those five games Walker has 38 pass targets – seven of which coming in the red zone. Fitzpatrick is one of those quarterbacks who has a tendency to not hold onto the football for very long, and because of that tendency he favors shorter pass routes. On the year, Fitzpatrick’s average depth per aimed throw is just 8.5 yards down the field, which is right on par with other tight end friendly quarterbacks. Some of the quarterbacks whose aDOT is nine yards or less down the field includes Tom Brady, Andrew Luck, and Drew Brees. Walker’s depth per aimed throw coming his way is just 9.3 yards. The two players suit each other’s needs.
Walker is owned in just 18 percent of ESPN leagues and 35 percent of Yahoo! leagues as of Wednesday. If you’re in a deep league, or a league with a lot of savvy players, he’s probably not on your waiver wire. But, if you’re in a shallow league, or he’s been cut because of recent injuries, you’d be well set to add him to your lineup.
As with anything fantasy related, things must be put into context. Walker is playing with a limited quarterback and has a problem with holding on to the ball, but outside of Vernon Davis and Jimmy Graham he may very well be the next best option this week. With Rob Gronkowski out, and the Cowboys, Colts, and Rams having tough matchups, he’s probably worth a start over most tight ends in the league. His opponent for championship week – if you’re in a league that doesn’t run in Week 17 that is – Jacksonville, is also a very good matchup. The Jaguars are the second-worst team defending tight ends as they’ve surrendered an average of 17 points per game to toght ends in PPR formats, and 11 points per game in standard formats.
With the tight end position being extremely shallow this week, and most fantasy leagues decided on gutsy moves when owners take chances, this could be the move that pushes you to your league’s championship.