From Tony Gonzalez to Jimmy Graham and with many names in between, the list of former high-ticket basketball players who have successfully converted to the tight end position at the NFL level is pretty long. Graham, the current standout tight end for the New Orleans Saints, played far more basketball than football at Miami, for instance. But NFL teams, looking for big bodies who can run and jump, get free in space, create picks to get open, and jump in the paint (i.e., the red zone) will leave no stone unturned when it comes to finding athletic advantages.
The Seattle Seahawks are the latest team to take advantage of this trend, and they did so in a surprising way when they signed former international basketball player Darren Fells to a three-year contract on Tuesday. Fells is the brother of Daniel Fells, an NFL tight end who has played for the St. Louis Rams, the Denver Broncos, and most recently, the New England Patriots. The 6-foot-7, 280-pound Fells, who will turn 27 in April, visited the Seahawks on Tuesday in anticipation of a Pro Day he planned to hold at a later date, but he never got out of the building -- Fells impressed Seattle's football people enough to nab a three-year deal.
Ian Rapoport of NFL.com was the first to report the transaction, which the Seahawks subsequently confirmed.
Fells spent his last year playing for the Libertad Sunchales basketball team in Argentina. He's also played on the hard court in Finland, Belgium, Mexico, and France. He was an all-state tight end in high school at Fullerton High in Fullerton, Ca., but chose to stick to basketball at UC Irvine.
"I am very, very proud of my brother," Fells told the "zotcubed" UC Irvine blog in Jan., 2012. "All of his hard work and dedication has paid off big time. Every year he has improved and every year he has made an impact for his team. Right now, being able to fight in the playoffs and have a chance at getting a championship ring is something I admire."
Fells also said that he would love to play in the NBA, but it took a different path to get him back to America.
Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider are known for making unconventional moves, and this is certainly one of them. But Fells' success as a player without any known college football experience would not be without precedent. The San Diego Chargers signed former college basketball player Antonio Gates to an undrafted free agent contract before the 2003 NFL season. A decade later, the eight-time Pro Bowler and three-time First-Team All-Pro has established his position as one of the best tight ends of the modern era.
Fells might not ever hit that mark, but the Seahawks are willing to take a shot.
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