Days after the Detroit Lions learned tight end Josh Hill would be retiring, they’ve found a familiar face to replace him, signing veteran Darren Fells on Wednesday.
Fells, a seven-year pro, returns to Detroit three years after he last played for the Lions. In 2017, the 6-foot-7, 270-pounder appeared in all 16 games, catching 17 passes for 177 yards and three scores.
From there, Fells signed with the Cleveland Browns before landing in Houston, where he enjoyed the two most productive seasons of his career. In 32 games (28 starts) with the Texans, he tallied 55 receptions for 653 yards and 11 touchdowns.
In addition to his pass-catching abilities, Fells is viewed as an above-average blocker, both in the ground game and in pass protection. Primarily lining up off-tackle, he had more than 500 run blocking reps during his stretch with the Texans.
Fells, 35, got a late start to playing football, pursuing a professional basketball career out of UC Irvine. After college, he spent five years playing for teams in South America, Mexico and Europe.
His physical playing style on the court naturally translated to the football, particularly the blocking aspect, where many basketball converts struggle.
“Mostly because that’s the stereotype, that basketball players can’t block, I put a lot of emphasis on that,” he said when he signed with the Lions in 2017. “I always prided myself on being a great offensive rebounder. It takes a lot of effort getting to the rim.”
The addition of Fells gives the Lions a much-needed veteran presence in the tight end room following Hill’s abrupt decision to retire. He joins Pro Bowler T.J. Hockenson as the only other tight end on the roster to appear in an NFL regular-season game.
Fells’ older brother, Daniel, played seven seasons in the NFL, also as a tight end, before announcing his retirement in 2016.