Going into this year, Nick Vannett was a hot draft commodity, the second rated tight-end on some sites, and was predicted to improve on last year's 220-yard, 5 TD pass-catching campaign. Vannett has since faded from the offensive stat line into a less flashy, but more gritty role.
We should have seen this coming. The Ohio State coaching staff admitted this summer that they were going to try to shore up Vannett's blocking abilities, particularly on the inside:
"Nick had some big catches for us," said tight ends coach Tim Hinton, who added that Vannett has a knack for reading coverages and getting open. "We’re trying to work on some of the other things he can improve, such as while Jeff was a strong blocker on the inside (since tight ends at times are glorified tackles) and Nick was a little better at that on the outside, we’re trying to make Nick good at both."
Technical blocking isn't going to get you many highlights (except for the one below), but now may be Vannett's time to shine. As J.T. Barrett likely takes back over the reins, watch to see if Nick Vannett's returns to his 2014 role as a blocking behemoth and pass catcher and becomes a bigger part of the Buckeye scoring offense.
Weight: 260 lbs.
Stats: 11 receptions, 100 yards, 0-TDs
The game situation
Last year, Vannett put up nice numbers as Jeff Heuerman moved into a blocking-dominant role. Vannett scored 5 touchdowns on 19 receptions, and was often the safety valve or red-zone look for J.T. Barrett's distribution based offense.
After a week's suspension, Barrett (likely) once again steps back into the top spot on Ohio State's quarterback depth chart. Barrett has long been touted for his ability to get the ball out quickly to playmakers, and his style last year included lots of short- to intermediate style throws, making the tall Vannett a perfect target to release off the line and catch a pass before the defense knew what was coming. There's been less of that this year with Cardale under center, but as defenses adjust to the reinsertion of the zone read into Ohio State's offense, Barrett may be looking once again in Vannett's direction. Particularly as Ohio State's receiving corps continue to be ravaged by injuries, a big target within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage may be just what the doctor ordered for Barrett.
The spread offense that Ohio State runs with Barrett under center relies more on plays happening quickly - Barrett either keeps the ball as a runner or gets it to the playmaker quickly. That is precisely the kind of situation where Vannett can thrive - surprise the defense, catch the pass, and move the chains.
What to watch for
Watch for not only Vannett's receptions to pick up, but try to catch paving the road for runners. Vannett's been doing work in that area thus far, notching plays like this one where he takes out two defenders:
I, for one, would prefer to see a few more of these:
The Buckeye point totals have been low this year, particularly when you take away all the points the Silver Bullet defense has scored. Barrett's first game under center led to a more familiar 40+ point total. As scoring increases, so do Vannett's opportunities to make a difference on the scoreboard (I know, duh). As Urban Meyer and Tim Beck light-up the rocket-fueled Buckeye offense once again, watch to see how many looks go Vannett's way. Maybe a goal line pop-pass to Vannett is in the game plan this week?
Nick Vannett has been a Buckeye stalwart, not often in the limelight, just doing his job and making those around him shine. He will be rewarded with the chance to play in an NFL that is gaga over tight ends right now, particularly those with Vannett's physical attributes and particular set of skills. He will look good to sharp-eyed scouts willing to look deep into his game tape, but a few more TDs courtesy of J.T. Barrett's ability to spread the ball out would certainly help Vannett's draft stock. Vannett's earned the right to be a scorer on offense. Will Ohio State give him that chance?