BEREA — Seth DeValve was drafted in the fourth round in 2016 because of his speed and jumping ability. He was seen as a tight end who could streak down the seam, creating matchup problems for the defense.
Fast-forward three years.
DeValve spends part of his day at fullback, squatting in the backfield as he prepares to plow a path for the guy who gets the ball.
“I can’t say I anticipated it, but, sure, my role has definitely evolved,” he said Tuesday after practice. “I’m doing what they ask me to do to help this team and I’m happy to do that.”
DeValve (6-foot-3, 245 pounds) has added incentive to take on the extra role. He’s fighting for a roster spot with the preseason finale Thursday and cuts due by Saturday afternoon.
“Yeah, absolutely,” he said. “Everybody’s fighting for a job. I particularly am fighting for a job.”
“It’s one of those things where the more you can do, the better your chances are,” coach Freddie Kitchens said. “He’s recognized that, and he’s worked on that aspect of his game. We’ll see.”
The Browns are thin at tight end and fullback. Starter David Njoku and Demetrius Harris are guaranteed spots at tight end, with DeValve, Rico Gathers, Pharaoh Brown and Stephen Carlson likely battling for one spot. Joe Kerridge is the only fullback after replacing Orson Charles, but Kerridge has been out for more than a week with a concussion.
The lack of quality competition, and his impressive athleticism, helps DeValve’s cause. But he has plenty to overcome if he’s going to survive the cuts that can linger into next week as the waiver wire fills with other options.
His production was inconsistent over his first three years as he battled injuries and struggled to establish a role for himself. He then missed three weeks of training camp with a concussion, returning Aug. 19.
“It was really tough,” he said of being out for so long. “Obviously you’ve got to do the right thing for your head, but it’s behind me now and I’m back in business playing football and excited to be back.”
Perhaps in a perfect world, DeValve wouldn’t take a hit for sustaining a concussion. But in the NFL, it joins the cons list alongside the knee injury that sidelined him for four games in 2016 and the hamstring that kept him out for three games last season.
“Three of the most important abilities, you guys have heard this: accountability, reliability, dependability. Throw availability in there,” Kitchens said. “So it’s hard, but he’s right. He’s fighting for a spot, and we’ll see what happens.”
DeValve, who was drafted by the previous regime led by Sashi Brown, started two of 12 games as a rookie with 10 catches for 127 yards and two touchdowns. He started four of 16 in 2017 with 33 catches for 395 yards and a score but dropped to five catches for 74 yards and a TD last year in four starts and 13 games.
“I don’t need to talk about last year,” he said. “It’s behind me and looking forward to a better year this year.
“I think I have a lot more to show. And I believe my opportunity will come to show what I can do.”
The Ivy League graduate had no problem adjusting on short notice to playing fullback.
“When I’m studying the playbook, I know going into this thing that I could be asked to do a lot of different things,” DeValve said. “I’m looking at everything all the time, so it wasn’t like I had to cram.”
The guy who enjoys playing the guitar and hiking also is comfortable flipping the switch and embracing the mentality of battering ram.
“To hit somebody in the face? Yeah. It’s something I’ve been doing my whole career, even when I was playing wideout at college in Princeton,” he said. “It’s football, man. It kind of comes with it.”
Kitchens has said the team won’t necessarily carry a fullback on the roster. If not, one of the tight ends must be able to line up in the backfield and DeValve fits the bill.
“Well, somebody has to, and he’s got the body type, he’s got the athletic ability to get through the hole, and sometimes when guys are 6-5, 6-6, they struggle to get down low enough to get their pads up under somebody else,” Kitchens said.
Make no mistake, that doesn’t guarantee him a spot.
“He’s not the only one who’s done that,” Kitchens said, referring to Gathers, who will open the season on a one-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
DeValve knows what’s at stake heading into the finale against the Lions.
“It’s important to play well and I plan on doing that,” he said. “Look, the one thing I know is the guys upstairs aren’t doing anybody any favors. They’re keeping the best guys that give them the best chance to win and so, if that’s going to be me, I’d love to be here. That’s all I know for sure.”