Five years ago, Darren Fells was thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean playing a different sport.
Now, he’s being counted upon by the Browns to serve a vital, multi-faceted role in a burgeoning tight ends room.
It’s been a whirlwind decade for Fells, who played five years of basketball in six different countries before completely switching gears to scratch an itch that simply wasn’t satisfied on the hardwood.
“The physicality. I was missing that a little bit in basketball,” said Fells, whose older brother, Daniel, was an NFL tight end from 2006-15. “It was one of those things that I wanted to get into the sport I loved.”
Fells, at 6-foot-7 and 270 pounds, stands to provide some much-needed physicality for the Browns, who will look to use him primarily as a blocker but won’t hesitate to utilize him in the passing game, either. He’s coming off a productive, fourth NFL season in Detroit, where he blossomed as a blocker and caught 17 passes for 177 yards and three touchdowns.
Cleveland, of course, is banking on much, much more catches, yards and touchdowns than that from the tight end position. That’s where former first-round pick David Njoku and Seth DeValve, who are entering their second and third seasons, respectively, come into play.
All three are set to play a vital role in the Browns’ new-look offense.
“Darren has kind of built a second career that is probably better than the first on that he had as an international professional basketball player,” tight ends coach Greg Seamon said. “It is just unusual – 6-7, 270 pounds and can bend, has agility, balance and is very, very bright. I think that we are very fortunate to have added him. I think that it rounds out that group very nicely.”
Fells sees himself as a leader of a group that has, as he said, “all the potential in the world.” Njoku and DeValve were two of the bright spots in an otherwise disappointing 2017 season, as they notched similar statistics -- DeValve (33 rec., 395 yards, TD), Njoku (32/386/4) -- while serving as the team’s second- and third-most utilized pass-catchers.
There’s more to the position, of course, and Fells flourishes in the areas that aren’t as easily quantified.
“I don't have Seth or David's speed, but the height definitely helps. I feel like my hands are very reliable. I try to make sure I catch everything that's thrown my way. If they're going to have me run routes that way, I'll do it to the best of my ability,” Fells said. “I know I'm block first. They brought me here to help with the run game. I'm going to focus on that first.
“Anything they want me to do I'm going to go out full speed and do it.”
Fells, who spent three years with the Cardinals before joining the Lions last season, signed with the Browns on the first day of the new league year. He was one of seven additions on that particular day, a group of veterans that has since grown as Cleveland’s front office added depth and experience to nearly every position group on the roster.
Fells is embracing his role in the turnaround. He knows a thing or two about completely shifting gears.
“Every guy they've brought in, it's sent a message to the NFL that the Browns are trying to make an impact on the league,” Fells said. “They're bringing a lot of guys who know what they're doing, a lot of guys that are going to change the atmosphere of the Cleveland Browns. I'm just trying to make a difference here.”