NEPD Editor: Mike Loyko
The tight end position was one of the strongest positions on the Patriots roster last season. The position got a little bit stronger and a little bit deeper as the Patriots signed Daniels Fells on Monday to add to Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
On the surface people may see the signing and question why the Patriots would need to sign another tight end, since they have two of the best in the league already on their team. While Hernandez and Gronkowski were great the Patriots had no depth behind the two and they often had to use an OT, usually Nate Solder as the 3rd TE. This move allows the Patriots to get a little bit more creative with Rob Gronkowski and even moreso with Aaron Hernandez. I’d look for Hernandez to be split out wide more often and also offset from the line, creating more mismatches with opposing defenses. By taking some of the blocking onus off of the tight ends it will allow both to stay fresher throughout games. It will also allow Nate Solder to play a true tackle position, most likely starting LT with Matt Light rumored to be retiring this off-season.
In 2010 the Patriots relied on Alge Crumpler to fill the 3rd TE spot. While Crumpler was a great blocker he provided nothing in terms of pass catching ability at that point in his career. Last year the Patriots spent a 5th round pick on Lee Smith, a tight end out of Marshall University. Smith was considered the best true blocking TE in the draft. Smith was limited as a pass catcher as well. I’m sure the Patriots would have liked to keep Smith but, released him during final roster cuts with hopes of re-signing him to the practices squad. The Buffalo Bills swooped in and signed him, leaving the Patriots with only two TE.
While the Patriots did have Dorin Dickerson, Garrett Mills and at time Carson Butler on the practice squad last year. They were extremely thin at TE. They were able to survive and avoid injury for the most part, but when Rob Gronkowski sprained his ankle in the AFC Championship Game the Patriots were left to scramble, and it really hurt them in the Super Bowl. Fells will provide them with a legitimate third TE, who is a better receiver than the other #3 TEs they have brought in over the last few years.
Fells entered the league as an undrafted free agent out of the University of California-Davis in 2006. He bounced around practiced squads and finally hooked on with the St. Louis Rams in 2008. After spending the 2008 and 2009 seasons with St. Louis he became a restricted free agent. The Patriots brought Fells in and offered him a contract, however he chose to return to St. Louis. In 2010 Fells posted career best numbers hauling in 41 receptions for 391 yards and two touchdowns. This past season he spent catching balls from Tim Tebow in Denver. While the Patriots were unable to secure him in 2010, there were able to get him now and it’s another solid depth signing by a team that was a play away from winning the Super Bowl.