The weird and wonderful tale of Darren Fell’s path to the Lions
There is no player on the Detroit Lions’ roster who has taken a less conventional route to the NFL than Darren Fells. Fells attended High School in Fullerton CA, where he earned All-CIF Southern Section II first and second team honors. The first team honor was in his junior season. After a down senior year, he found himself playing at UC Irvine. He spent an uninspired four seasons there but he loved the game. He went undrafted in 2008 and found himself playing in a Belgian professional league from 2008 to 2010. In 2010 to 2012 he played in leagues in Finland, Mexico and finally signed with an Argentinian team. Such was Darren Fells love for the game. He was willing to travel the world, and find a game wherever he could. The problem was that the sport he loved was basketball.
Darren Fells’ Football Career
Darren Fells is a mammoth of a man for a football player, but the market for 6’7″ power forwards doesn’t exist in the NBA. Fells decided not to play football in college because his heart belonged to basketball. He had been an all-state receiver in high school. That is no small thing in the state of California. He had offers from UCLA, and a bevy of other schools to play college football in 2004. After nine years away from the sport, Fells heard the call of the gridiron once more. Every couple of years we hear a story of someone who has decided to give football a try. Either after some time off or for the first time; the call of stardom and money has a great pull. Recently Jarred Hyne tried to transition from rugby, and Terron Beckham tried to turn his impressive physique into an NFL career. The difference is that Darren Fells actually pulled it off.
Antonio Gates did not play college football, and Jimmy Graham played only a single season after four years of college hoops. Undersized power forwards have made this transition before. Not after a five-year professional career in basketball, however. Fells found his first opportunity in Seattle, where he was signed, cut, then signed and cut again during the 2013 preseason. A month and a half later the Cardinals needed a practice squad tight end. Fells took the opportunity and ran with it. He made the active roster in 2014 and played in ten games. In 2015, Cardinals tight end Jermaine Gresham was injured and Fells saw the most playing time of his NFL career.
The Cardinals use their tight ends primarily as blockers. It took Fells a couple of years to become proficient at the NFL level. Last season Fells exceeded Gresham’s blocking grade from Pro Football Focus. While he was asked to perform significantly easier tasks than Gresham, who is regarded as one of the league’s most proficient blocking tight ends, as the second tight end, he performed those tasks admirably. The Cardinals decided that they could likely get Fells for less than the lowest level restricted free agent tender. The Lions jumped on the opportunity to pick up the 31-year-old free agent.