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Overshadowed at Ohio State, tight end Nick Vannett looks to stand out in the NFL

Vannett's role as a receiver was limited with the Buckeyes, but he's confident that he's the best receiving and blocking tight end in this draft.

Leading up to the NFL Draft, you hear tight ends like Austin Hooper from Stanford and Hunter Henry from Arkansas mentioned pretty regularly, but Nick Vannett has been overlooked a bit.

Mocking the Draft's Dan Kadar has Vannett ranked as the second-best tight end in this draft, saying he is "the great unknown ball of potential in this class." This is largely due to the way Vannett was utilized at Ohio State, where he had just 55 career receptions for 585 yards and six touchdowns. In the Buckeyes' offense, the role of the tight end revolves around blocking.

Blocking wasn't something that came naturally to Vannett at first. His predecessor at Ohio State, Jeff Heuerman, was an adept blocker, and when Heuerman was drafted by the Denver Broncos last year, Vannett knew the role of blocker was one he was going to have to grow into, and quickly.

"[Blocking was] something I really was never asked to do a whole bunch of, and I knew that was something I had to work on this season, because I didn't want this offense to skip a beat," Vannett said. "I knew we had a great running back and a great offensive line, and so that's something I really worked on this season, and that's definitely a skill that I've really developed, and I think it really helped me become a good two-way tight end this year."

At 6'6 and 257 pounds, Vannett has prototypical NFL tight end size. It was just a matter of applying himself to learning how to be a better blocker. That work ethic is a hallmark to his game, and he says it will carry over to the next level.

"Whichever team gets me, just know that they're going to get a player who's going to work their ass off and hopefully be a contributor in the years to come," Vannett said.

"I had very limited opportunities at Ohio State in the receiving game, and I feel like that's always been a strength of mine."

When asked if the way he was used in the Buckeyes' offense had maybe hurt his draft stock, Vannett conceded that it probably had. Still, the emphasis on blocking made him a well-rounded prospect and better prepared him for the next level.

"I'm kind of happy that I was able to block a lot, because that's something I wasn't really good at, and the more I blocked this year, the better I got, and the better two-way player I became."

And it showed in games, like when he took out two Penn State defenders to spring Braxton Miller for a big gain.

Even though he didn't get much opportunity to showcase his receiving skills at Ohio State, Vannett is confident in his abilities.

"I very rarely drop the ball ever," Vannett said. "I run pretty good routes, and I'm really good at using my body to shoot off defenders to make a play and to create separation in man coverage."

Vannett says that teams may be surprised when they discover he's a good receiver, too.

"Whichever team gets me, they're going to get a steal, because they haven't really seen my full potential yet. So if they use me right, they're going to get a heck of a player."

The next Gronk?

Because of his blocking and receiving skills, Vannett considers himself the best tight end in the draft and aims high when he picks a player to emulate.

"I want to be the best, so I like to study the best, and I think Rob Gronkowski -- I don't think there's anyone better than Rob Gronkowski right now, just how dominating he is in the blocking game and in the passing game," Vannett said. "He's just so physical. I just love the way he plays the game ... I want to be in the same category as him one day.

"And that's just the pride I have in myself and that's the confidence I have, and I think I can, if I keep working, I think I can get up there one day."

Vannett has already earned the Gronk comparison in some people's minds -- he was nicknamed "Baby Gronk" during this year's Senior Bowl practices.

"I had a few people kind of throwing that name around a little bit," Vannett said. "That's definitely a hell of a comparison."

Supporting member of Ohio State's all-star cast

It wasn't just his role in the offense that caused Vannett to be overshadowed at Ohio State.

"Yeah, when you've got -- I don't know how many potential first-rounders we're going to have this year," Vannett said. "We have so many guys coming out this year that it's kind of hard to match up with the names like [Joey] Bosa and [Ezekiel] Elliott and Braxton Miller and those guys, but I'm not really a guy who likes to be in the limelight. I just like to play football and just do what I want to do, and I'm perfectly fine with that."

Vannett is happy to let those guys have the spotlight while he focuses on football.

"I'll let them have their shine and I just want to play the game just for the love of the game, and that's how it's always been for me. I've always been raised to be a humble guy, and no matter what's going to happen, I'm going to remain the same person."

Vannett probably doesn't get enough props for the way he blocked for Elliott, the best running back in this year's draft, either. That's fine with Vannett.

"You know, I don't think I do [get enough credit], actually, especially at Ohio State," Vannett said. "It was always the five offensive linemen who got all the credit, and the tight ends really never got a shoutout.

"Tight ends really never got a whole lot of love, and we're fine with that. We're fine with doing the dirty work and just kind of doing it without being recognized."

The lack of recognition didn't sour Vannett on his time at Ohio State, though. He credits the coaching staff at Ohio State and his overall experience with developing him into an NFL-ready tight end.

"A lot of GMs and teams come in, and they always talk about how they love Ohio State Buckeyes because the coaches there do a great job of developing their players and where they're able to walk in and be starters and just contribute right away," Vannett said.

The best players he went up against in college were on his own team

With so many Buckeyes expected to be drafted this year, it's no surprise that Vannett claims his own teammates presented the biggest challenges to him at the collegiate level. Vannett named Bosa and former Buckeye Noah Spence, both projected to be taken early in this draft, as the two toughest players he faced.

"I might be biased, but I always thought that the guys that we went against in practice were way better than any team or player that we went against on the field in the games," Vannett said. "So I would say going against Joey Bosa, and even when Noah Spence was here, we had some great battles, and obviously, I didn't win every one, but we went at it every play.

"I loved going against them because I knew I was going to get better from going against them and they were going to get better from going against me."

Waiting is the hardest part

As stressful as the weeks leading up to the draft can be for prospects, it's also a unique experience. Vannett isn't losing sight of that.

His favorite part of this process has been interacting with the representatives from the teams that have shown interest in him.

"You see all these coaches and all these high names on TV and just getting face to face with them and talking with them, it's such a cool experience," Vannett said. "You've got to think, how many people get to go through this process? It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and that's how I look at it."

But once the Combine and pro days are done, the days pass by slowly as prospects wait for draft day to actually arrive. For Vannett, that's the biggest challenge.

"I've got a few visits coming up, and really just kind of staring at the calendar, just kind of counting the days down until the draft," Vannett said. "So it's kind of a long waiting period right now, and like I said, it can't come soon enough. I'm excited to see where I'm going to end up."

And if he ends up on the same team as a former teammate, even better.

"Chances are, wherever you get picked up, there's going to be at least one Buckeye on a team," Vannett said. "But even if not ... I get along with people really well, so I'm sure I'll have no problem fitting in to any locker room and getting along with all the players.

"So if there is a Buckeye there, that'll be awesome, but if not, I'm looking forward to meeting the players there and getting on the veterans' good terms."