Since being drafted in the 7th round back in 2003 by the New York Giants, Kevin Walter has hauled in 315 receptions, 23 touchdowns and over 3,850 receiving yards in his career. Impressive numbers for a player who was cut by the Giants during his first training camp, only to be signed, then cut again and finally resigned by the Cincinnati Bengals in that same off-season. He would be used sparingly as a wide receiver for the Bengals his first three seasons in the league, his high mark season being a 19 reception campaign in 2005, where he managed 211 yards and his first career touchdown. Houston signed Walter to a restricted free agent tender in 2006 after Cincinnati declined to match the offer; he would become a Texan. After a modest 21 catch season in 2006, Walter would be called upon to replace an injured Andre Johnson in 2007 and he would flourish. Johnson would sit out from week three through week eleven, and in that span Walter put up 41 receptions, over 520 yards and a touchdown. Walter would finish the season with 70 total touches, 4 touchdowns, and 830 yards from scrimmage. In 2008 Walter would set a career high in touchdowns with 8, and total yards with over 920. Making his totals for the 2007 and 2008 seasons even more impressive is the fact that in both years, starting quarterback Matt Schaub would go down with injuries and back up quarterback Sage Rosenfels would finish the seasons under center. Since moving into the starting line-up in 2007 for the Texans, Walter has averaged 53 receptions, and over 680 receiving yards per season, while scoring 22 touchdowns. Time and again, Walter has defied the odds to continue to be a successful NFL, as well as fantasy football wide receiver. The question is how much longer can he continue to do so?
Kevin Walter is heading into his 10th NFL season in 2012, and coming off a season in which he managed to catch only 39 passes for 474 yards, and 3 touchdowns. Determining his fantasy worthiness should be a pretty easy and painless decision, shouldn't it? On the surface, it appears that there is little debate that Walter has seen his career peak, and that he is no longer a viable fantasy option. However, for some reason the Texans continue to bring him back, Andre Johnson continues to get banged up, and Walter keeps making clutch grabs. As he did in week 14 of last season, catching the game (and division) winning touchdown with only 2 seconds remaining. Some way, some how, Kevin Walter keeps getting the job done. It seems like every off-season the Texans have either drafted or signed the man to step in to replace Walter. There was the acquisition of Bryant Johnson before last season; nope, only 6 grabs for the former Cardinal and Lion. In 2010, Jacoby Jones managed to tie Walter in receptions with 51, although Walter would amass 59 more yards and 2 more touchdowns than Jones. The talk in Houston now is that Jones is on the trading block, and if he isn't dealt, could be outright released by the Texans before the 2012 season. Another challenger goes down to the 6'3" kid from Eastern Michigan. Walter has been exceptionally durable in his 9 years in the league, missing only a total of only 8 games, and 5 of those were in his rookie season with Cincinnati. By contrast, Andre Johnson has been sidelined for 22 games in his 9 years, and 12 of those in 2010 and 2011.
An overriding opinion of the 2011 season is that neither Jones nor Walter stepped up to be a consistent replacement for the injured Andre Johnson, thus forcing the Texans to look to the draft for that receiver. However, a closer look at the situation may reveal something more was at play than just Walter and Jones underachieving. The injuries to Matt Schaub and then Matt Leinart drastically altered the course of the Houston passing attack. Rookie TJ Yates stepped in and did a remarkable job as a game manager, but was an absolute hindrance to the fantasy value of the wide receiving corps. With Yates at the helm, the Texans averaged nearly 90 less yards a game through the air, two yards less per pass attempted, as well as two less yards gained per reception. Houston ran a steady dose of misdirection, play-action, and roll out passing plays to tight ends or wide receivers, running underneath patterns. With Schaub under center, Walter was targeted 35 times and had 25 receptions for nearly 300 yards and 2 touchdowns in the season's first nine games. The combination of Leinart, Delhomme and Yates would target Walter 34 times in the final 8 games, and his reception total would drop to 17. Furthermore, in weeks 14, 15, and 16 the Texans would be without Andre Johnson, moving Walter into a combination with Jones as the number one wide receiver option on an offense struggling to throw the ball. Walter has excelled as the secondary option for the Texans, and benefitted from the double coverage that Johnson would pull. Despite his success back in 2007 filling in for Johnson, Walter has never been a number one wide receiver type talent. So, the dip in production in 2011 for Walter may not have been simply a decline in his abilities, as much as it was a conflux of events that came together to limit his possibility of production.
That being said, the Texans did make a conscious effort to improve their wide receiver options during the 2012 NFL Draft. DeVier Posey (of Ohio State) and speed burner Keshawn Martin (of Michigan State) were both selected in the first four rounds by Houston. Once again, Walter will have competition for his number two spot on the wide receiver depth chart for the Texans. However, a closer inspection of the two receivers drafted (and the UDFA receivers signed subsequently) paint an interesting picture. Posey is a nice route running receiver, but lacks the burst and physical play to really challenge defenses, and is definitely no lock to supplant Walter as the #2 wide receiving option. The acquisition of Martin actually spells the end for Jacoby Jones more so than Walter, as Martin is a return specialist with the room to grow into a very serviceable slot receiving option moving forward. Dwight Jones from North Carolina was signed as an UDFA, and at one time may have been a threat to make a dent in the Texans line up. Too many dropped passes last season and too many off the field issues will probably be too much for Jones to overcome and the practice squad is his likely landing spot. The smart money says that come opening weekend of the 2012 NFL season will find Kevin Walter lining up as the #2 wide receiver opposite Andre Johnson.
When I sat down to write this particular article, I must admit that I had pretty much determined which way this fantasy worthiness inquiry would go. Kevin Walter has never been a sexy or flashy name to be called on fantasy draft day. There always seem to be rookies or free agent signings that catch my eye during the off-season that should out perform Walter and I rank accordingly. After closely examining the Houston Texans' passing game and the potential it holds for 2012, I am going to go out on the skinny branches here. Kevin Walter IS FANTASY WORTHY as a late round selection in 2012 fantasy drafts, as a 4th or 5th receiver. Call this one a gut feeling, but I see Walter as a very sneaky sleeper pick to keep on your fantasy bench with nice potential for a rebound season. On a team like Houston (that seem poised to make a run at the Super Bowl), a durable, sure handed veteran is invaluable and Walter is that guy for the Texans and our fantasy rosters.