By: Jesse Patterson @df_patterson
On March 16, Jimmy Graham signed a three year, $30 million contract with the Green Bay Packers, bringing to an end his run as the top tight end with the Seattle Seahawks. Over his three year stay in Seattle, Graham caught 170 balls for 2048 yards and 18 touchdowns. Graham was at his most dangerous inside the 20-yard line, leading the entire NFL in 2017 with 26 targets and hauling in 10 touchdowns, after being targeted 20 times in the red zone the previous season. Moving from Seattle to Green Bay, and having the opportunity to play with arguably the top quarterback in the game in Aaron Rodgers, many predict Graham to top the numbers he posted with Seattle. While the signing seems like a win for the Packers, it leaves behind an opening with the Seahawks. Who will be the beneficiary of Graham’s vacated role and targets on the Seattle offense?
The first option would likely have been Graham’s immediate backup the past several seasons, Canadian-born Luke Willson. Unfortunately for the Seahawks, Willson also departed the team as a free agent this past March, signing a one year deal with the Detroit Lions. On the same day Jimmy Graham signed with Green Bay, Seattle announced the signing of veteran tight end Ed Dickson, inking the former Panther and Raven to a 3 year, $10.7 million deal. Dickson is a solid veteran addition, having played eight seasons in the league, but has only topped 30 receptions once in his career back in 2015 and only posted multiple touchdowns just twice. The Seahawks also drafted a tight end this offseason, selecting Washington’s Will Dissly with the 120th overall pick in the fourth round. Rookie tight ends rarely make an immediate impact as the transition from college to professional level takes several seasons, so Dissly’s 2018 impact will likely be limited. Enter third-year pro Nick Vannett, the man who nobody is talking about but who has a tremendous opportunity in front to him to become a fantasy force.
Drafted in the third round, 94th overall in 2016, Vannett has been relegated to backup or third string duties his first two NFL seasons due to the presence of Graham and Willson. This has given him the opportunity to watch and learn from one of the premier options in the game while also perfecting the intricacies of playing the position at the professional level. In 24 NFL games, Vannett has been limited to 15 receptions, 156 yards and a single touchdown. His college production at Ohio State was not overly eye-popping either. He managed 55 receptions, 585 yards and 6 touchdowns over his four-year collegiate career, though many scouts believed him to be underutilized during his time in the NCAA. His NFL-sized frame and steady hands drew rave reviews in the pre-draft process. NFL.com’s Lane Zierlein actually compared him to Zach Ertz in his draft profile, noting that Vannett’s strengths included being:
“Endowed with an all-day NFL body type. Carries long limbs and big hands on a muscular, athletic frame. Comfortable hands in traffic and can make the heavily contested catch. Not afraid of taking a hit over the middle to secure the throw. Fluid mover and has the flexibility to sink and run sharp angle routes. Has body control and catch radius to pluck it high or low. Has size and ability to handle inline blocking assignments and will battle once he's locked into a one-on-one fight. Was trusted to help in pass protection. Lined up wide, in slot and as both move and inline tight end. Finds his place against zone and works himself into open, easy throws for quarterbacks on the move.”
Vannett also gets the benefit of knowing the coaching staff and system, as many of the coaches have remained the same since he was drafted. Head coach Pete Carroll returns for a ninth season as bench boss, while tight ends coach Pat McPherson also enters his ninth season with the team. New offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer brings with him 18 seasons of coaching experience, most recently working with the Indianapolis Colts in the 2016 season which saw tight ends Jack Doyle and Dwayne Allen combined for 94 receptions, 990 yards, and 11 touchdowns. The opportunity for production is certainly available and a familiarity with the coaching staff means Vannett will be given every opportunity to earn a share - if not the majority - of the snaps at tight end.
Another factor working in Vannett’s favor is his size. Listed at 6’6” and 261 lbs, he gives the Seahawks passing attack a different look than other receiving options like 5’10” 192 lbs Doug Baldwin, 5’10” 182 lbs Tyler Lockett, and the matching 5’11” 220 lbs running back duo of Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny. The Seahawks did bring in 6’3” 203 lb Jaron Brown and 6’5” 232 lb veteran Brandon Marshall in the offseason, though neither is guaranteed a major offensive role. Vannett’s frame should allow him to be a big target in the red zone and short-yardage situations. Quarterback Russell Wilson’s scrambling abilities create time to extend plays, meaning Vannett will have the ability to create separation and utilize his contested catch abilities and sure hands to win one on one battles.
While I cannot see him replicating the numbers that Jimmy Graham put up, I do see Nick Vannett as a solid, dependable tight end option in fantasy football. According to the August ADP data at dynastyleaguefootball.com, Vannett is currently going undrafted in standard leagues, meaning he is very likely residing on your waiver wire at the moment. In the Seahawks’ first preseason game, Vannett played with the first string offense, connecting with Wilson for 2 catches on 3 targets and 20 receiving yards, including a 5 yard touchdown strike. As training camp and preseason rolls along, dynasty owners will want to stash Vannett as a depth tight end with the potential to return amazing stats compared to the cost to acquire him. I predict a stat line in the neighborhood of 45-55 catches, 450-600 yards and 7-9 touchdowns, which should place him well within the top 15 at the position. Grab him now before it’s too late.