On Tuesday, the Texans signed tight end Darren Fells, who never played one down of college football. Think about that, the man has been in the NFL since 2013 having never played one down in college. He was a college hoops star at UC-Irvine and played professionally around the world for five years. When he felt that career had run its course, he gave the NFL the proverbial college try. After four years in the NFL, he became the starter in Detroit over the back end of the 2017 season. That success led him to Cleveland, where he complemented uber-talented pass catcher David Njoku in 2018. When the Browns signed former Kansas City Chiefs tight end Demetrius Harris, Fells was available for the Texans to snatch up and add to their tight end roster.
Ironically, the former basketball star is most well-known for his ability to block. He’s 270 lb. and athletic at the point of attack. I heard a few of my radio pals joking about how Fells wasn’t an offensive lineman but he was going be just as valuable with the way he can block. I knew that was tongue in cheek, then I turned back on the Broncos-Browns game and realized it really might not be far off.
The Browns were driving and had the ball at the Denver 27-yard line on 2nd-and-10. With running back Nick Chubb and Fells in the game together, the Broncos expected run and put their base defense out on the field. The Browns wanted the Broncos base defense on the field so they could spread them out in the secondary, allowing their receivers to win 1-on-1. As such, they put quarterback Baker Mayfield in the shotgun with three receivers out wide. Fells is the lone tight end on the field and he aligned to the right of the formation.
Here’s the same shot from the end zone.
When I first saw this play, even before it started, my eyes went right to Fells and the man across from him: future Hall of Fame pass rusher Von Miller. Because the Browns forced the Broncos into base personnel, if Miller rushed, the Browns only option to block him was Fells.
Against a tight end.
The former basketball player.
Then... the script flipped.
Fells not only won the rep, Miller got shut down.
Immediately off the snap, Miller tried to take Fells up-field with his speed rush.
But, Fells took a proper drop as if he were cutting off a drive to the basket. So, Miller countered, trying to go back inside.
Fells slid back to his left and cut Miller off again, squaring him up as if he were a Pro Bowl offensive tackle.
In keeping a square base with quick feet, Fells slowed Miller to a halt and in the process cut off linebacker Todd Davis who tried to add on to the blitz from the outside. Take a look at the final shot. Fells kept both at bay and neither one got in breathing distance of Mayfield. That room allowed Mayfield to launch deep for a shot at the end zone.
The Texans have a multitude of pass-catching options and it’s one play against Von Miller. However, having not seen every Browns game last year, it’s clear that they truly trusted him to go one-on-one with elite pass rushers and, not only win, but dominate. Fells may not catch a ton of passes, but if he protects like this he’ll allow his fellow pass catchers to catch a ton more in 2019.