PHOENIX –If Darren Fells can add the dual blocking-receiving threat to the offense that the Detroit Lions have been looking for in their tight ends, he can upgrade what was one of the most unsettled positions on last year's roster.
Fells was primarily a blocking specialist in the three seasons he spent with the Arizona Cardinals, but the Lions were projecting an expanded role this year when they signed him as a free agent earlier this month.
General manager Bob Quinn liked the blocking skills Fells displayed with the Cardinals, but he feels he has the potential to contribute as a receiver.
Fells' size – 6-7 and 281 pounds – and the athleticism he possessed to play professional basketball before turning to football four years ago could make him a receiver to go with starting tight end Eric Ebron.
"He's a big, primarily blocking tight end," Quinn said when he spoke to the media at the NFL Annual Meeting this week. "But we think we can utilize him in other areas as well because he's a really athletic guy for being as big.
"That's kind of what his role (blocking) was in Arizona, but we're going to try to, once we get him here in the OTAs, work with him a little more closely. We'll try to expand that."
Fells, 30, did not play football after high school, thinking he had a better chance to succeed as a professional athlete in basketball. Fells played basketball at Cal-Irvine. He pursued his pro basketball ambition for five years, playing for teams in Europe, Mexico and Argentina.
Fells gave up basketball for football in 2013. He was cut in training camp by Seattle and made the Cardinals' practice squad later that year. Fells was on Arizona's active roster the last three seasons. In 38 games he had 40 catches for 536 yards and four touchdowns. He averaged 13.4 yards per catch.
Last year behind Ebron, who caught 61 passes in 13 games, there was a constant shuffle of tight ends – with minimal production. Three other tight ends combined to catch six passes. A fourth tight end – veteran Brandon Pettigrew – was injured and never made the active roster before being released late in the year.
It has become increasingly difficult for NFL teams to find tight ends with multiple skills who can be effective blocking and receiving. If Fells produces the way Quinn hopes, he will be a solid complement to Ebron in the two-tight end sets.
Quinn talked about the difficulty of finding versatile tight ends – starters and backups.
"These tight ends are really, really hard to find," Quinn said. "I think this is one position where, you watch college football every Saturday and you see the number of quality tight ends. Every year, it seems like there's less.
"This year's draft, there's a fair number of them, but they're very role-specific. He (Fells) is a guy that we saw in Arizona and liked, and he adds a different dynamic to the tight end position."
View photos of tight end Darren Fells.