While Braxton Miller's Ohio State career was one filled with twists and turns, Nick Vannett's actually progressed more closely to a plan. A four-star recruit out of Westerville, OH, Vannett was one of the few members of the 2015 Buckeyes to have been recruited by Jim Tressel.
Well, we know how the Tressel-era ended, but when you have a 6'6, 260 lb athletic tight end like Vannett, most coaches are going to be okay with keeping that skill set on the roster. It took Vannett no time at all to exhibit that this skill set was one worth playing, as after redshirting his 2011 freshman campaign, Vannett quickly became a staple in the Ohio State offense, playing in 25 of 26 games in his 2012 and 2013 campaigns.
You might remember that prior to Ohio State's 2014 season, Buckeyes' tight end Jeff Heuerman was being hyped as the best Urban Meyer tight end since
Perhaps Vannett's finest game as a Buckeye came against Michigan in 2014. Never one to blow up the stat sheet, Vannett's two catches for 28 yards may not seem like much, but it was the particular two catches and a particular block that made Vannett so effective this game. His first catch was a short wide open touchdown in the red zone, and his second was a lovely 22 yard catch and run that saw Ohio State wide receiver Corey Smith nearly behead a Wolverine defender.
As was the case with most of Vannett's Ohio State career, the truly remarkable play from Vannett came on a block:
No, this play was not one that made the highlight reels thanks to the whole five yard loss part of the play, but this wouldn't be the last big block Vannett would lay this 2014 season.
Vannett's 2015 season was supposed to be his best. Viewed by many as a potential breakout star due to his rare combination of size and athleticism, Vannett unfortunately took a step back in terms of statistical production, failing to score a touchdown on the season. As was the case with most Buckeyes, this isn't necessarily a representation of Vannett's true talent. In an offense that had Ezekiel Elliott, Braxton Miller, Mike Thomas, Jalin Marshall and more, utilizing the tight end as a key pass receiver became an afterthought by years end.
This didn't stop Vannett from still being an integral member of the Buckeyes' running game, and Vannett himself has no regrets. As was the case with his entire Ohio State career, Vannett ended it in class and as a complete team player.
Sometimes calling someone a team player is a backhanded way of saying someone didn't have a great individual career, but as the stats show, this is far from the truth for Vannett.
These numbers may not blow you away at first glance, but Vannett will go down as one of the more productive Ohio State tight ends in recent memory. With more career catches than former Ohio State tight ends Jake Stoneburner and Jeff Heuerman, and more career yards and touchdowns than former Craig Krenzel favorite target Ben Hartsock, Vannett has a serious case to make as Ohio State's premiere tight end of the 2000s thus far.
We know Vannett has the size and athleticism to potentially thrive at the next level, but what specifically is making some scouts call Vannett potentially the number one available tight ends?
Strengths: Blocking ability, athleticism, size
In this age of football, tight ends have seemingly gone backwards in terms of their capabilities upon leaving college. With the spread offense replacing the two tight end/power running of the past, less and less tight ends enter college ready to block actual NFL defensive linemen and linebackers. It's hard to blame this all on the tight ends, as they spend most of their time in college split out in the slot instead of inside the box.
Luckily for Vannett, no scouts will question his ability to make impact blocks in the running game, as Ezekiel Elliott's first of four touchdowns against Oregon in the 2014 National Championship game demonstrated.
Having gone in motion prior to the snap, Ohio State has dialed up a nifty trap play that involves leaving the Oregon defensive tackle unblocked. The idea behind this call is that the defense tackle will go too far up-field after being unblocked, giving Vannett a good angle and head start to wall off the defensive tackle.
Vannett slides over just as he is supposed to, but the Oregon defensive tackle actually does a fairly good job of not getting too far up-field. This makes what is supposed to be an easy block for Vannett fairly difficult, but luckily for Ohio State, their tight end blocks like an offensive lineman.
Vannett gets the job done (job done) and gives Elliott the seam needed to let Elliott go ahead and continue being the best running back in college football. While this view is jumbled, when we look at the view from the endzone we can see just how vital Vannett's block was to Zeke's 33 yard touchdown.
Typically on a trap play it is the guard who will kick-out the defensive tackle, but Vannett's skill set and blocking ability gave the Buckeyes the ability to call some plays that most teams couldn't. The five offensive linemen all did their part on this play as well, but it all started with Vannett's ability to hold up doing what should normally be an offensive lineman's job.
Weaknesses: Hands, production
While Vannett has had his fair share of big plays and touchdowns during his time at Ohio State, less than 600 career receiving yards will still draw some questions from the NFL. Vannett showed at the Senior Bowl that he is capable of making plays, as he led all receivers with 58 yards on three receptions.
However, one such reception was a 28 yard seam pass that Vannett quite clearly did not catch upon viewing the instant replay, and this play also brought up Vannett's bad habit of allowing the ball to get too deep into his body upon catching it. Obviously a catch is a catch and Vannett isn't quite what some would call a "body catcher", but for a tight end without a ton of solid receiving production on film, every little detail will be scrutinized.
Best Case Prospect: Tyler Eifert
Tyler Eifert left Notre Dame as a highly hyped tight end who was supposed to immediately give the Bengals a solid red zone threat. While Eifert's blocking leaving college may actually not be as strong as Vannett's, Eifert too holds a 6'6, 250 lb frame which has benefited his initial transition to the NFL. If Vannett can become the type of receiver that he has shown flashes of being, it's not a reach to see Vannett as the prototypical NFL tight end who is equally adept at blocking as he is at running down the seam.
Worst Case Prospect: Ed Dickson
Ed Dickson is currently Greg Olsen's backup on the Carolina Panthers, and while Dickson's 6'4, 255 lb physique has made him a valued member of the Panthers offense, he has never become a consistent enough receiving threat to warrant being a team's number one tight end. This is the same fear with Vannett. Most teams do use multiple tight ends, but Vannett did split most of his career with at least one other tight end (after Heuerman left it was Marcus Baugh who stepped up as the Buckeyes new number two tight end). If Vannett struggles to become a consistent receiving threat, he could become a glorified blocking tight end similar to Dickson. All in all not a terrible worst case option.
Draft Projection: Third round
A great performance at the NFL combine could help potentially bump Vannett into the second round. This particular NFL Draft class lacks a clear cut number one tight end, and it is not out of the question for Vannett to potentially be the first tight end off the board if a team decides to reach on a need.
Most "Nick Vannett" play:
I considered linking Vannett's touchdown in the 2014 national championship, but the wide open one yard touchdown catch just wasn't doing it for me. Ezekiel Elliott's 66-yard touchdown run against Michigan in 2015 broke a struggling Ohio State offense out of its five quarter slump, and set the tone for the two huge victories over the Wolverines and Notre Dame. Like many a big play from Zeke, it couldn't have happened without a key block by Vannett.