Newly signed tight end Nick Vannett doesn’t want the New Orleans Saints’ fancy seam routes or option routes. He’s not here to glide down the field and do touchdown dances in the end zone. He’s here to do the dirty work — He’s here to fill the Josh Hill role.
When I say the Josh Hill role, I mean pinning down defensive ends in gap schemes, kicking out and lead-blocking on toss plays and of course grabbing the occasional surprise Sean Payton screen.
The former Denver Bronco isn’t going to ‘wow’ you with his receiving stats or his athleticism, but he isn’t afraid to get down and dirty with the big dudes up front. And coach Payton has shown a certain fondness towards guys like that, leaning on them to block in heavy personnel packages that set up for a rare play action shot.
Vannett may have never had a season with more than 274 receiving yards in his five-year career, but that’s because pass-catching isn’t the reason he’s found a role on teams.
In every season where he’s played an extended amount of snaps, he’s recorded more run-blocking snaps than pass-catching ones. Such as 2020, where he had 203 run-blocking snaps, compared to 117 as a potential pass-catcher.
He has almost exclusively played inline, as opposed to getting snaps at a receiver position.
His proficiency as a blocker starts with his ability to anchor against defensive ends on a variety of running schemes.
He can pin down DE’s when a puller in a gap scheme is trying to swing around him.
And he can turn a bigger end inside when trying to create an opening in a zone or duo concept.
Vannett is a bit larger than Josh Hill — weighing just over 260 pounds — and the Broncos asked him to execute a ton of daunting tasks in the trenches last year against men who usually were bigger than him.
For this reason, he did have times where he was taken advantage of, but for the most part, he is able to hold his own nearly to that of an extended offensive tackle.
Now, when it comes to his contributions in the passing game, I wouldn’t expect much. He has 686 career receiving yards through five seasons, and he’s not what you would describe as a pure route runner.
His contributions to the passing game will be through the unpredictability he provides from a schematic standpoint. Such as when the defense doesn’t know whether it’s going to be a run or a pass when he’s in the game.
Leak-outs, flat routes, and simple concepts where he’s one of the last reads will be his primary role in the passing game. And that’s fine, because the Saints have other playmakers.
But we all know Sean Payton is going to call a random screen pass to Vannett eventually, as that was always one of his favorite ways to catch a defense sleeping with Josh Hill. And while he’s not a dynamic athlete, Vannett can get rolling downhill on a screen and do a tad more with it than Hill could.
Overall, Vannett is in New Orleans to be a lunch-bucket kind of guy. He will be expected to do the tasks most players don’t get excited about. But he’s the type of player who thrives on those tasks.
While this type of player can only move the needle as far as team success so much, you need them to smooth out the margins of a football team. Vannett will look to do just that, even if nothing about his game is ‘smooth.’
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