Cleveland Browns tight end Seth DeValve missed most of training camp and every preseason game with a quad injury, and some questioned whether his making the team’s roster made much sense.
DeValve injured his quad on July 29 and hasn’t really been seen or heard from since.
Those concerns amplified after he played just six snaps—did he actually play, because this feels like it’s becoming a Sasquatch-like conspiracy—in Week 1 before mysteriously showing up on the injury report and was declared out with a hamstring injury the day before the Browns’ Week 2 matchup in New Orleans.
To recap, DeValve had a quad injury that kept him out for over one month, and then he barely played in Week 1—prove to me he did play, please, for my sanity. Then he practiced for a week, wasn’t listed on the team’s injury report, and then he went back on the injury report with a new injury.
Got it. Whew.
Remember, that Saturday was the same day Josh Gordon was surprisingly deactivated, and then Browns announced they were going to release him, then they decided they’d rather maybe trade him instead. Let’s be real, a lot has happened over the first three weeks of the Browns’ 2018 campaign. So it’s understandable that DeValve’s absence has been overshadowed.
He then missed Week 3, too.
There’s an odd silence in Berea concerning a player who snagged 33 passes and 395 yards in a secondary tight end role last season—both were second-highest on the team behind Duke Johnson, which speaks volumes about the team’s receiver room last year. Starter David Njoku caught one fewer pass and finished with eight fewer yards, although he did have four touchdowns to DeValve’s single score.
The silence is getting a little odd considering he’s been pegged as such an integral player, and was retained for so long despite his total absence from the team’s season to this point. For a guy affectionately nicknamed Baby Gronk—like every other up-and-coming tight end in the league, apparently—and who carried significant expectations heading into this season, it’s just a little weird.
As of this writing, DeValve has been a limited participant throughout the week leading up to Cleveland’s Week 4 West Coast trip to the Bay Area. Throughout all of this, none of the everyday Browns beat writers have asked about him, and no coaches have offered up any information about his status, or his role with the team when he gets healthy.
Perhaps that’s because he’s close to getting back on the field, and all of this is much ado about pretty much nothing. But not for nothing, DeValve matters for the Browns, and here’s why.
Through three weeks, the Browns have ran 33 percent of their plays with two or more tight ends—21 percent with two and 12 percent with three tight ends, per SharpFootballStats.com. For reference, they ran just 25 percent of their plays with two or more tight ends last season. Instead of having adolescent Gronk out there, Todd Haley has been trotting out Orson Charles and Darren Fells to fill those snaps, and the results haven’t been great.
Although Charles doesn’t do much of anything exceptionally well, he has been pegged as a utility player while serving as the team’s primary H-back lead-blocker for Carlos Hyde. Sure, that’s a role, but Charles doesn’t seem to offer much in the form of pass-catching, and he hasn’t exactly been a prolific blocker to this point, either. Credit his sticking on the roster to Hue Jackson’s familiarity with him in Cincinnati, and John Dorsey’s having brought him to Kansas City in 2017. And DeValve’s ghost act probably hasn’t hurt his longevity.
Fells has been, for the most part, also less than spectacular. For what he’s asked to do, he does adequately get it done, so it’s fine. He’s a big body, but he also doesn’t offer much in terms of pass-catching.
For Haley, having DeValve back in the lineup will allow him to get more creative with his formations. The experienced coordinator may no longer need to utilize three tight ends if he’s able to be more threatening with two receiving threats from the position, but he could accomplish both. While you might point out that the team may not end up utilizing as many three tight end sets once DeValve’s back, last year’s tendencies are not really predictive of how things will go under Haley’s play-calling.
Added 13 personnel looks was something some of us expected to see more of this season, with Fells, Njoku, and DeValve providing matchup and deception problems for opposing defenses. That’s still a possibility, and it wouldn’t be the least bit surprising if we start seeing it as soon as DeValve finally gets onto the field.
Whenever that might be.