The Bucs are hurting at tight end. Starter Rob Gronkowski will miss his sixth game on Sunday, and will probably miss a couple more before he’s back. Cam Brate and O.J. Howard have been adequate fill-ins, but neither provides Gronkowski’s contested catch or blocking ability.

So, of course, general manager Jason Licht made a move. On Wednesday, the Bucs’ shot-caller nabbed veteran tight end Darren Fells to fill in for Gronkowski over the next couple weeks.

Fells is in his eighth season in the NFL at 35 years old. A former basketball player, Fells has curiously made his mark in the NFL as a blocker more than as a receiver. That doesn’t fit the mold of most basketball converts, but Fells is a little bit different.

“[He’s a] veteran guy I’ve been very, very aware of and known for a long time,” head coach Bruce Arians said. “He’s a big target, like ‘Gronk’ (Rob Gronkowski). Just a big guy that blocks and can catch.”

At 6-foot-7, 270 pounds, Fells has always had the size and nastiness to play in the trenches. He’s been one of the best pass-protecting tight ends in the NFL for most of his career. The Bucs could use some of that, as Howard has struggled to replace Gronkowski’s prowess in that area. Fells has the size, strength and technique to hold his own on the edge.

“It’s crazy,” Arians said. “He was a basketball player, but he wasn’t afraid to put his face in the fan. Most basketball players, they don’t like it in there where it’s grimy. They want to be out in space. But he saw a future and worked his tail off. Made some big catches for us, too.”

Fells was with Arians for four years in Arizona, so he’ll pick up the offense quickly enough. With the Bucs short on bodies at wide receiver, expect to see the team operate out of 12 and 13 personnel more often on Sunday. That means Fells could replace Josh Wells in the Bucs’ run-heavy packages, giving the team another passing option without losing anything in the run game.

But don’t sleep on Fells in the passing game either. Obviously Fells isn’t a game-breaking athlete, but he’s got great hands and the ability to make catches outside his frame. Fells’ basketball background becomes most apparent when the ball is in the air. He hasn’t dropped a pass since 2019, and he caught 11 touchdowns from 2019-2020. The majority of those came in the red zone, where he’ll be a target for Brady in the coming weeks.

The best part about adding Fells is that he knows the system and can fit in seamlessly. He’s made a career out of being a well-rounded, reliable player for whatever team he’s been on. Even on the hapless Lions, Fells has been the NFL’s highest graded pass protecting tight end this season, per PFF.

He won’t be as dynamic as Gronkowski, but Fells is about as good a pick-up as a team could hope for during Week 10 of the NFL season. The veteran should be a quick study and can be an asset to the Bucs in the run game, pass protection and as a receiver in the red zone. Great pickup by Licht and Co. once again.

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About the Author: Jon Ledyard

Jon Ledyard is PewterReport.com's newest Bucs beat writer and has experience covering the Pittsburgh Steelers as a beat writer and analyzing the NFL Draft for several draft websites, including The Draft Network. Follow Ledyard on Twitter at @LedyardNFLDraft
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fredster
fredster
7 months ago

Kudos to Licht again. I don’t know if Brate is hurt but he has stunk this year. He had chemistry with Winston but can’t seem connect with Brady. That’s why I think it’s funny everyone assumes Perriman will walk in and start catching the ball all over the place. It takes time even with the GOAT to develop chemistry etc. Howard is good pass catching option but his blocking is never going to be great imo. He was a bust as far as where Howard was drafted imo. If he was 2nd or 3rd rd pick I’d say he’s been… Read more »

drdneast
drdneast
Reply to  fredster
7 months ago

I have to agree with you fredster. I believe George Kittle was taken in the fifth round that year and has proven to be a much more effective blocker and playmaker.

Captain Sly
Captain Sly
Reply to  fredster
7 months ago

OJ has definitely not lived up to the hype but me personally I wouldn’t call that a Bust. Like you said those injuries have played a good part in that. Now don’t be shocked but I could easily see Jason Licht extending him to a contract for another couple years. I say that because Licht has always shown loyalty to his draft picks and as long as OJ wants be a Buc I can see a deal getting done behind the scenes.

ScottC543
ScottC543
7 months ago

Sam Hubbard surely knows who Fells is after that “chip”. LOL

drdneast
drdneast
7 months ago

I remember when we first drafted Howard the knock on him was that he wasn’t as good a pass catcher as he was a blocker. Now it’s just the opposite. With the Bucs reaching out to “nab” this player that noone else really wanted, it sure speaks volumes about his regression over the last five years.
I really doubt if we will see the perpetually injured Howard next season.

Spitfire
Spitfire
7 months ago

First time seeing the tape on him, that’s recent too. He looks like exactly what we need. Wondering if he got let go due to his age and younger quicker pass catching TEs being in front of him. He looks very similar to Gronk in his size, blocking and great hands. If he can Pass Protect and catch tough catches in the Red Zone then he’s everything we need right now! Brate has always had the best hands I’ve ever seen and caught some tough catches from Winston for years but he has been super disappointing during shrinks absence, he… Read more »

obuc
obuc
7 months ago

I totally agree. We need that blocker to take out linebackers, help with an edge etc. If he can get in synch with Brady, he could be a huge key and the perfect replacement for gronk.

Kimba
Kimba
Reply to  obuc
7 months ago

agree completely wish we did this before–hoping for chemistry early

Kimba
Kimba
7 months ago

my Gawd this dude looks incredible ytf did we not do this a long time ago

scubog
scubog
7 months ago

If Fells is brought up I too suspect he fills in for Josh Wells. Sort of a “Fells for Wells”.