The 2022 NFL Draft has come and gone, which means most league teams have pretty much finalized their initial 90-man rosters for the 2022 offseason. Paris.
NFL teams are often willing to take risks with potential players after the draft is over. Why? That is, because they have list space. Teams can only keep a maximum of 69 players from their 90-player roster on their final active roster and practice squad, which is worth it.
The Browns are the latest to sign a player who will raise eyebrows. They came to terms with Marcus Santos-Silva, who hasn’t played football since his junior year of high school.
Who is Santos-Silva, and what could the Browns get out of him? Here’s what to know about the last basketball player to dabble in professional football.
Who is Marcus Santos Silva?
Marcus Santos-Silva is a former Texas Tech and VCU basketball player who is going to try his hand at the NFL. The Browns signed him as an undrafted free agent on Monday, so Kevin Stefanski and Co. will look to develop him into a tight end position role player.
Santos-Silva was a three-star freshman coming out of Vermont Academy, by 247 Sports. The 6-7, 245-pound center has attracted interest from Kansas State, Temple and VCU and has received offers from the latter two schools. He eventually enrolled in VCU and spent three years there, two of them as a starter.
After his time at VCU, Santos-Silva transferred to Texas Tech where he became a key part of their rotation. He started during the 2020-21 campaign and helped lead the Red Raiders to 7th in the AP poll.
Santos-Silva returned for an additional year of eligibility in 2021-22, due to NCAA rules from the COVID-19 pandemic. He played on the bench, as transfers Bryson Williams and Kevin Obanor took on bigger roles with the team under new manager Mark Adams.
While at Texas Tech, Santos-Silva provided key energy and was an inside scoring threat. He also played solid defense in the minutes given to him and received praise from Adams during his super senior season.
“[He’s] just a great competitor,” Adams said of Santos-Silva after Texas Tech’s NCAA Tournament win over Notre Dame, by HeartlandCollegeSports.com. “He just plays with so much emotion. He didn’t have a good [first] half offensively or defensively, but he made huge defensive plays down the stretch. Plays with a lot of energy and emotion.
“And, again, Marcus is one of those guys who had a lot of offers to go somewhere else and other chances to go play at other D1 high schools and wanted to be here at Texas Tech. . Great young man. I was so happy for him.”
Marcus Santos-Silva’s stats at Texas Tech, VCU
Santos-Silva’s statistical best seasons came at VCU when he was a starter. He averaged a career-high 12.8 points and 8.9 rebounds per game during the 2019-20 season, while also averaging 1.1 steals and 1.3 blocks per game.
The big man has always been an effective goalscorer in college, shooting over 53% from the field during his career. He made most of his goals near the hoop and attempted only one 3-point shot during his college basketball career.
Below is a look at Santos-Silva’s stats from his time at VCU and Texas Tech.
Marcus Santos-Silva stats at VCU
Marcus Santos-Silva’s stats at Texas Tech
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How Marcus Santos-Silva fits in with the Browns
Santos-Silva is a good development project for Cleveland. Kevin Stefanski’s offensive system relies heavily on tight sets to fuel the running game and passing game, and Santos-Silva has the type of advantage teams seek in tight end prospects.
Currently, it’s hard to find a fit for Santos-Silva on the Browns’ roster. They’ll likely carry three or four tight ends with David Njoku and Harrison Bryant serving as roster locks. After that, the race is a bit more open. Miller Forristall and Nick Guggemos both spent time in Cleveland last season, so they’re looking to challenge for the No. 3 tight end role; the loser can claim last place from the tight end.
As such, it seems much more likely that Santos-Silva will fight with Malik Smith and Zaire Mitchell-Paden for a spot on the practice squad. Maybe we could get past Forristall or Guggemos, so consider it a five-man race for what’s probably three or four spots on the roster and practice squad.
The practice squad certainly seems like the best place for Santos-Silva. After all, he hasn’t played football since his junior year of high school. It will take time for him to get used to the football field again, but it’s certainly possible for him to become a quality tight end at the NFL level. After all, we’ve seen it before.
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Other Notable Basketball Players Became TE
The NFL has long attempted to take productive college basketball players and turn them into tight ends. Not all of them have worked, but when they do they tend to produce at a high level.
Below are some of the best at the job, starting with a few Hall of Fame talents.
Gates is the go-to example for any basketball player trying to become a tight end at the NFL level. Gates exclusively played basketball during his college years despite attempting to play both football and basketball at Michigan State under Nick Saban and Tom Izzo. Instead, he played basketball in Eastern Michigan and Kent State and helped the Golden Flashes make the Elite Eight during his junior season.
Gates was considered too small to make the NBA as a 6-4 forward, so he returned to football after college. He signed with the Chargers as an undrafted free agent and went on to become one of the most prolific tight ends in NFL history. He had 11,841 receiving yards, 116 receiving touchdowns, three All-Pro nods and eight Pro Bowls during his 16-year NFL career.
Gonzalez, unlike Gates, was allowed to play both football and basketball during his college years at Cal. He became a quality tight prospect under then-coach Steve Mariucci, averaging 6.4 points and 4.3 rebounds during his three seasons on the Golden Bears basketball team.
Ultimately, Gonzalez opted to play football permanently after his junior year. He declared for the 1997 NFL Draft and was selected by the Chiefs with the 13th overall pick. He recorded 15,127 receiving yards and 111 touchdowns during his 17-year professional career with the Chiefs and Falcons. He was a six-time All-Pro, played in 14 Pro Bowls and was inducted into the Hall of Fame five years after retiring following the 2013 season.
Graham’s success in the NFL seems unlikely, in hindsight. He went to Miami for four years as an undergrad and became a key player on their basketball team. The 6-foot-7, 259-pound forward averaged 4.2 points and 4.2 rebounds per game during his career before choosing to play a single year of football as a graduate in Miami.
In his only season with the Hurricanes football team, Graham caught 17 passes for 213 yards and five touchdowns. Evaluators were sufficiently impressed with his talent that the Saints selected him 95th overall in the third round of the 2010 NFL Draft.
Graham has played for four NFL teams so far in his 12-year career. He generated 8,506 receiving yards and 85 touchdowns while making five Pro Bowls and one All-Pro team. Not bad for a guy who barely played college football.
Thomas took a similar path to Graham when it came to his NFL journey. He only played one season of college football at Portland State while serving as a star on the basketball court. Thomas averaged 10.8 points and 5.9 rebounds as a senior on 67.1 percent shooting after recording 29 receptions for 453 yards and two touchdowns with the football team.
Thomas’ 6-foot-5, 252-pound frame intrigued talent evaluators enough that the Broncos made him a fourth-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. He played sparingly through his first two years in Denver before bursting onto the scene as one of Peyton Manning’s top weapons in 2013. He had 12 consecutive touchdown seasons with Manning and made the Pro Bowl in every campaign.
After those two seasons, Thomas fell apart and his career ended in 2017. He finished it with 2,406 receiving yards and 36 touchdowns while playing for the Broncos, Jaguars and Dolphins.
Alie-Cox is probably the best comparison for Santos-Silva. Like Santos-Silva, Alie-Cox hadn’t played football since his junior year of high school when the Colts signed him to a contract. It took a while for Alie-Cox to develop to the NFL level, but he turned into a quality tight-end rotational piece.
Alie-Cox spent 2017 with the Colts practice squad, but has since moved up the pecking order. He’s now one of their best tight ends and he’s had 936 yards and eight touchdowns in his four years on Indianapolis’ active roster. He is also a rock solid blocker.
Santos-Silva should look to Alie-Cox if he wants to carve out a role with the Browns. They have similar body types and skills and they both played basketball at VCU. Cleveland would probably be thrilled if Santos-Silva could become an actor like Cox.
Fells is another player Santos-Silva can look to for inspiration. The former UC Irvine prospect played basketball overseas for a few years after college before trying to make it big in the NFL.
The 6-foot-7, 270-pound Fells eventually found a role as a blocker and red-zone threat. He had 1,526 yards and 21 touchdowns during his NFL career while playing for five different teams. Santos-Silva compares well to Fells in terms of height, so the Browns can hope he develops into a similar capacity.
Of course, there’s always a chance that Santos-Silva could end up being similar to Rico Gathers, who had NFL potential after playing college basketball at Baylor but never lived up to it. Still, it will be both interesting and entertaining to see what the Browns can do with their new offensive weapon.